Meditation Monday: Listen to the Message Behind the Language

This past week a tweet by the President caused anger and controversy when he attacked Rep. Elijah Cummings and referred to Baltimore as, “…a disgusting rat and rodent infested mess…No human being would want to live there.” News and social media outlets reacted with stories about whether or not these comments were racist. Defenders of the President’s words maintained that there is no reference to race, and the President went on the say that it is Rep. Cummings who is racist. Yet anyone who learns about our nation’s racial history realizes that the word “infested” is a racial dog whistle sending the message that areas of “infestation” are populated by “inferior” people. Any of us who are not black or brown need to listen to our black and brown sisters and brothers when they point out racist language that does not explicitly refer to race or color. Our nation has a long history of using racial dog whistles to avoid appearing racist while sending a racist message. Such dog whistles include the word “bad” to describe neighborhoods and/or schools in majority black and brown areas. Calls for “law and order” in the policing of black and brown communities is another dog whistle sending the message that people in those communities are dangerous and need extra measures of control often including use of excessive force. Instead of trying to justify or defend such language, we need to listen to those impacted by it. A short piece by the CNN reporter Victor Blackwell in response to the President’s tweet about Baltimore received a lot of attention, because he had an unplanned emotional reaction. To me it is a powerful reminder that those impacted by racism are in the best position to help us reveal and challenge the messages behind the racial dog whistles that continue to hurt people and contradict our nation’s espoused principles of equality and justice for all. Victor Blackwell’s piece is posted below: