Today’s topic was “The Words We Choose Matter,” and I think it’s important to reiterate to some of my followers how important a statement that is.
You can find the link at the bottom of this post and in the green lettering above.
I think it’s important for me to write about writing because I’m a writer, and I want to keep track of what I learn when I’m finished learning it so that I can always look back I’ve been saying for a while now that what sounds like English to you, may not always sound like English to me.
The conversation was broken down by several amazing writers from KS Hernandez to Nada Chehade and Kelsey Ogibewe, but I wanted to throw my two cents in as I didn’t get to speak since I decided to sleep in this morning.
How Language Lands is Your Responsibility but also Not
Perception is a huge default when it comes to the way that we hear language. For instance, just because you learned English in England, doesn’t mean that you learned the same kind of English in Canada.
We have a vast vocabulary as humans, and not all time, do we learn the same language. I don’t speak Swahili, so I won’t understand – even if I take the time to learn – all the inflections of the same words, that someone who has been speaking Swahili their entire life will understand.
The same is true for any language, but especially English. So when I say something with the intent you hear it one way, it’s entirely possible you’ll hear something entirely different.
When I say Critical Race Theory, for instance, many people think that means “erasing white culture,” which isn’t even remotely what CRT is about. But go off.
You hear words the same way you choose to hear them, regardless of whom is speaking. Your job as a reader is to decide how you’re going to choose to hear what you’re hearing and to ask for clarification if you aren’t sure. Our job is to make sure there are no mistakes between what we say and what you hear.
Swearing In Your Writing
I swear a lot in my writing because oftentimes I’m fucking angry and I want that point proven. I’ve had lots of people – and yes it is always white people in this case – tell me that swearing is crass and low class, but I don’t give a fuck?
Like, I really don’t. I appreciate your opinion, but your opinion comes from the fact that we speak a language written and created by colonizers who destroyed more than half of this planet through war, murder, and lies.
That’s a provable fact, so the language that I speak comes from rebelling against this society that thinks that there should be 1 way for “people of class” to speak, and another way for us lower-class folk to speak.
We speak the way that we speak as a way to mimic enough of your language so you understand what we’re saying, but different enough that we don’t lose our own true selves. That’s why you see writers – especially Black, Indigenous and marginalized community writers – using swear words in their work.
We want you to feel that we’re hurting/angry/sad/scared/petrified of our deaths at the hands of the descendants of the men and women who colonized our ancestors.
Race and Writing
You won’t always know that the author of a particular piece of writing is from a specific race unless they tell you. So writing really is relatable to so many people from literally every corner of the earth, but it didn’t become racial, sexual, or intellectual until people started creating pamphlets, or what we’d call today, newspapers.
Scholars commonly credit the ancient Romans with publishing the first newspaper, Acta Diurna, or daily doings, in 59 BCE. Although no copies of this paper have survived, it is widely believed to have published chronicles of events, assemblies, births, deaths, and daily gossip.Open Lib
Each of the newspapers that you read today follows the same or a similar format. There’s daily or weekly news, a few articles of note, and then some gossip or some kind of entertainment section. Papers have grown to include articles on race out of necessity and yet people don’t understand how important the invention of the modern-day newspaper is.
As the paper is starting to find its way out of popularity and more and more news is becoming digital we’re losing a huge part of our history. Many writers still write notes on paper out of traditional habit and conditioning, and we don’t remember the importance of translating what’s in our minds to the page.
It’s a craft taking words from your brain and putting them onto the page, and it’s one that Black folk in particular, were denied the right to for centuries.
Dunbar High School is the first public high school for black children in the United States and the first public high school in Washington, D.C. The school was founded in 1870, as the Preparatory High School for colored youth; and was also the first public high school in Washington, D.C.THE STORY OF DUNBAR HIGH SCHOOL: HOW STUDENTS FROM THE FIRST PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL FOR BLACK STUDENTS IN THE UNITED STATES INFLUENCED AMERICA
Prior to 1807, there wasn’t a “school” for Black children, according to this thesis, which I knew but had to confirm. So now we’re talking about the fact that Black folk were transported from a world they didn’t understand, to a place with a language they didn’t speak, and food they didn’t eat, while being forced to work sometimes 18 hours a day on a little more than rice and water.
Speaking in any language, is a rebellion against white supremacy, speaking in our own versions of English, is a rebellion against a world that destroyed most of the planet through colonization. Swear on.
Each of Us Has To Decide What Kind of Writer We’re Going to Be
I decided my life was in danger when I decided to tell my story, and that was backed up by actual threats from men who abused me, and raped me. There are times I think about that every day and times I don’t think about it every single hour of the day. And the one thing that I’ve come to acknowledge is that my writing isn’t just about or for me anymore.
I will never forget getting yelled at by a teacher for asking for more help on my writing because I really wanted to be great at writing, just that. I didn’t care about math, science, or anything else, I just wanted to be great at writing. I wanted to be an author.
I am now, and that teacher is still out there terrorizing young people who are just trying to live up to standards that a rich white woman is so privileged by she doesn’t even recognize it.
So here we are. If you want to be a writer, you have to acknowledge what kind of writer you’re going to be. Does it count if no one ever sees it, sure, but what’s the point of writing and creating a piece of written work if you choose not to share it? For personal reasons, you may want to keep it to yourself, but that’s not how you grow.
Not many plants grow well in the dark, and the few that do are rare for a reason. They aren’t meant to be seen, but the work that they provide to the world is still invaluable. Choose the kind of writer you want to be and the rest will follow.
Listen to the full Writers and Editors of Color conversation here. Join the conversation live every Sunday morning @ 9 AM PST. Follow @queenie4rmnola and @SavvyWroteThat for more information
If you have thoughts you’d like to add about this post, please leave a message, and let’s talk about them,
Sending All My Love,
Devon J Hall
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