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The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

The Forum

The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

The Forum

The Power of Words

Lindsey Bell Editor-in-Chief When I first decided I was going to write an article covering Latin’s experience with Touré, I didn’t really have any idea what I was getting into. After attending the breakfast last Wednesday, I questioned my ability to write the article. I mean, I am a white, European-American. What do I know about post-blackness in America? Furthermore, I am still trying to come to terms with his ideas, and I am not sure if I agree with all of them. Just as I had pretty much decided I wasn’t going to write the article, I had the unique opportunity to have an informal lunch with Touré.  I shared my concerns with him, and he responded with encouragement. He said that if I feel uncomfortable, then I should absolutely write it.  I can’t say that I fully understand post-blackness yet, even after listening to him speak at Assembly, discussing with students in the library, and conducting my own research, but there is one thing I am sure of. While it is important to make distinctions between the various movements taking place today for minority groups, there are undoubtedly common threads that unite the causes. One idea that particularly resonated with me was the power of words. This idea of re-evaluating our use of those words that are so common in everyday language, that we have almost become desensitized to them. As a grammar guru, I have a certain appreciation for those special words that are just quintessential for their context.  However, I question the consciousness of some words that seem to effortlessly roll off our tongues. Then again, I have made a conscious effort to refrain from typing those specific words, because I do not feel comfortable typing them—regardless of whether Touré would qualify my usage as “academic”. Forgive me if all I am doing is simply giving into “he who shall not be named”—but that seems to me to be the only solution. The moment you begin to make exceptions, lines are bound to be blurred, and unfortunately crossed. One man’s “artistic value” is another man’s racist, sexist, homophobic, classist slur. Language evolves. This is an undeniable fact. Just as a popular style can go from the front cover of a magazine to the “what not to wear” section in the back, words fluctuate in and out of vogue seemingly overnight. We all remember the popular saying, “treated”. A word that once meant to regard or consider someone as something, to provide medical care to, or to take someone out to dinner now is said when someone is put down or embarrassed by someone, to be put in one’s place or “schooled”, according to Urban Dictionary. The very existence of a dictionary aimed at keeping those up to date with changing meanings of colloquial conversation, proves the evolution of language. However, I question whether a word can truly shed its historical context. After being informed of the origins of “mother fucker,” every time I hear the word, I will think of slave owner raping one of his female slaves and will think twice before using that sort of language. Touré brought up many interesting points, but this is just one that I thought was relevant to our community, especially with the recent Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign, promoted by Best Buddies, and dynamic conversations I have been a part of in LAW.  I would love to hear what the Latin community has to say on the power of words, post-blackness, or anything else Touré discussed, so please feel free to comment and share your thoughts!]]>

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  • A

    aklingJan 25, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    I absolutely agree that language influences both how we think about the world and how we act within it (Not that I understand it, but I’m pretty sure this link talks about that: http://anthologyoi.com/anthropology/linguistics/sapir-and-whorf-linguistic-theory.html). I agree that we have to be careful with our language and when we use it, not only to avoid hurting others but to avoid twisting our own views and the views of those around us. Certain words have certain connotations, and associating a group of people with those words attach the connotation to the people. It’s why I’m not going to use any of those words right now, and it’s where I start to disagree with Toure. I’ve always been interested in subconscious discrimination, the kind that everyone has whether he likes it or not. From the media to society to our natural xenophobia, we all have natural prejudice that we all have to fight. Words like N—— only lend to that subconscious prejudice, whether colloquially or in an intellectual environment.

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  • A

    aschwabJan 25, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    I like that you focused on the evolution of language versus your sentiment towards post-blackness. So many of these words are used colloquially and I think that’s what unites people on the topic. Personally, I’ve been a lot more mindful of using/hearing certain words after listening to Touré. Nice article linds.

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  • K

    kkoppulaJan 25, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Great work writing this article. I agree with your point that language has power, to both strengthen and demean people, but to dismiss the words because of the fact seems cowardly. The power of language comes from the real world, from historical context and should therefore be utilized to convey the same power and passion. I am not advocating for the use of words such as motherfucker or nigger but within artistic or academic settings such as “Niggas in Paris” as Toure discussed or as part of an intellectual discussion it seems pertinent and necessary. It is easy to say “we should never use these words because it hurts people’s feelings” but that seems to be naive outlook upon life, as if everyone should be nice to everyone. These offensive words will be used outside of those utopian environments whether we like it or not, and it becomes a question of the group identity rather than personal ideals.
    I thoroughly enjoyed Toure’s discussions as well as this article but I felt a certain lack of how to move forward with this dilemma. Toure illustrated the flaw quite clearly but made hardly a mention of how to cope with the use of such debasing remarks. It seemed clear that there were multiple, strong opinions on the matter but no logical or reasonable way to ameliorate the divide it causes.

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  • N

    nlehmannJan 25, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    This is a great article! Really highlighted what was important to remember from what Touré was telling us. ALSO, as much as we hate to admit it, Latin still has to fight to fix these problems. We had the same problem in 2010 when About Face Theatre came and told us we couldn’t say “that’s so gay”. It reminded us of the constant need to work for the better and get rid of these hateful terms and words. I wrote an article about it! The article is here!: http://latinschool2.schoolpress.whipplehill.net/forum/?p=492

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