To Her, Words Matter

Amanda Gorman.

She is the first National Youth Poet Laureate and at 22 years old, was the youngest inaugural poet in US history. Most of us were glued to the TV on inauguration day, but Gorman had us transfixed as she read her poem The Hill We Climb

Below she talks with Anderson Cooper. I had to laugh when he said “Wow…you’re awesome!” because that was my thought exactly. When she delivers words that separately are just words but she forms them into art, you cannot help but to have no words in response! All you can do is blather out “wow…you’re cooool!”

One of the things I am feeling about my efforts to learn more about our white supremacist system and my own aim to be antiracist is that I do not lecture or speak out about things I am learning. I am hesitant to point out to a family member that “quiet from the peanut gallery” is actually racist, lest I put a damper on the moment.

Here are some other phrases you didn’t realize were racist.

I am reading a lot, and listening, and learning. But my brain does not function in a way that allows me to succinctly provide reasoning behind my objections to this or that statement according to what I have learned. It’s frustrating.

Amanda Gorman’s reading at the inauguration opened up an opportunity.

One of the challenges of being raised with white privilege is that we simply don’t see what’s wrong with many of the things in our world. That’s because our world was designed for us.

Many white people have posted about Gorman on facebook. “So articulate!” And I cringe. I posted the following on Facebook, not in a direct response to someone describing Gorman this way, but in an effort to address it in general;

Amanda Gorman is an exceptional poet. Her work is beautiful and her delivery on Inauguration Day was so moving.
Dear white people, please stop describing her as “articulate”. It’s actually kinda offensive. (correction, it IS offensive)
(Also, if any part of my first two sentences are problematic, please call me in/out. Publicly if you’re willing so we can all learn)

Now the last part in parentheses is an invitation to my BIPOC friends, if willing (because it’s not their job to educate me) to let me know if any part of my statement is still offensive. I do this because in my white privilege I often cannot see what I cannot see! And a friend did say something. She said “It’s not kinda offensive. It IS offensive!” And I appreciated that so much. It pointed out to me that I was softening the impact of my criticism to people who may have used the term. And I shouldn’t.

A friend commented that they use articulate and well-spoken as complements because they themselves feel they are not and it always impresses them when they hear someone who is articulate, “I’m all about learning and changing so I will do some reading up and thinking/processing, but I don’t think they are always a negative.”

White people cannot relate to being descended from generations of oppression. We struggle to see that many aspects of our world are experienced differently for Black people than they are for white people. After generations of oppression, words and how they are delivered mean something different to Black people than they do to white people.

“Complimenting” a Black person as articulate is received as “You’re so articulate for a Black person!”

Here’s another blunt example. You see a little child climbing on a playground structure and say to your friend “Awe look at the cute little monkey!” If they are white, it’s fine. You’re saying the gangly kid looks like a cute animal that you love! If they are Black? We do not call Black children “monkey” no matter the intent! It’s just not done. It lands differently.

It’s time we all learn more about Intent over Impact and simply accept that we are wrong when we say some things. Kind of like when Black people told us forever and a day that they were being disproportionately murdered by the police and we were all “no you aren’t, you’re committing more crimes!” and then we finally saw and realized ‘Oh shit, we should have listened to you”

One of the biggest challenges in white privilege and our inability to see it is we refuse to simply believe a Black person when they tell us something is not right.

When you tell yourself “Calling someone articulate is a compliment” remember that countless Black people have said it is not, and stop saying it.

Six “positive” expressions you say that can actually be offensive

That wasn’t all. I had another opportunity to flex my puny antiracist-aspiring muscles when I came across this beauty;

That’s right! It is a sweatshirt profiting off the success of Amanda Gorman! What can be more American and privilidgey than that?! Success that she and only she earned. And not only that, but it calls a 22 year old award-winning writer and cum laude graduate of Harvard University “girl”.

No, it’s not “just a cute shirt”.

Descriptors aside, here is the talented and deserving-of-all-of-the-prizes Amanda Gordon;

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