Why I stopped sugarcoating my language on race

Hey guys! How are you doing? What’s new?

So I found it pretty difficult putting my thoughts on this into words. Lately, it’s been really tense all over the world, from the looming recession and pandemic to the protests part of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. A lot of my daily conversations have been about this.

And it made me realise how much I ‘dull down’ my language around race. I tended to use terms that lump people of colour together when actually I’m only talking about Black people. But I know how harmful this is to Black issues and does little to bring attention to them.

So I’ve had a deep rethink around my language on race and here’s why you should too…

So, if you’ve been living under a rock, you wouldn’t know about the protests that have been happening since the killing of George Floyd. An unarmed African American man, who was killed for being Black. He died in the most horrific way at the hands of a policeman who kneeled on his neck…for 8 minutes. George’s death adds to the very long list of killed African Americans by police for futile reasons. Also, frankly the unlawful killing of Breonna Taylor by police as she slept peacefully in her bed.

Though it’s not just in America, around the world (and especially in places like the UK) Black people are constantly subjugated to police brutality and hounded for simply being who they are. The Black Lives Matter protests are a sign that we’ve reached a new breaking point and it’s time for the regime of terror on Black people to end.

And so these are the kind of conversations I’ve been having, more so since George and Breonna’s death.  And I’ve found myself speaking to friends and colleagues about the protests from all backgrounds.

Yet I’ve noticed something really interesting, I tend to sugarcoat my language on race. That is, I use terms such as ‘BAME’ (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) and ‘POC’ (People of Colour) when I’m specifically talking about Black issues. I lean on these words because they feel comfortable and familiar. It’s always how I’ve discussed it and it felt divisive and separatist to speak of Black issues only. I used to think, surely the remaining ‘AME’ people have experienced similar forms of racism, so why not put us together when speaking about it?

But this is where I’ve been going wrong. I’ve been doing Black issues a disservice. By being fearful of becoming the ‘outlier’, I’ve missed the whole point of a constructive race conversation.

For too long I’ve become accustomed to using non-offensive language around race, when more often than not the whole topic is offensive. Like how else does one talk about their experiences of racism and discrimination without it invoking painful memories and feeling? You can’t separate the two.

Instead, you should be true to it by being direct. When talking about Black issues – use words that pertain to Black people and so on for other races. There is no need to squash us all together and hope for the best, that’s how people get confused – me included!

I did this a lot when speaking to White people because I felt like it made what I was saying more palatable and easier to digest. It wasn’t until the BBC used the n-word, in the middle of a news broadcast a few weeks ago that I realised the power of language, it’s not something to be thrown around casually. Especially not that word.

So now, you won’t catch me using the word BAME just to appease others when talking about a specific issue or race, and if I do, I’ll explain why the term works better in that instance than others. (There are plenty complexities with that term anyway, but we’ll save that for another day!)

I want to be part of those who add fruitfully to conversations around race rather than distract. And I think this is one of the main ways to do it. It can be scary to step out and seem like a radical, but what’s radical about being clear? Exactly, I didn’t think so myself.

And there are lots of great books to read on this and educate ourselves. I’ve collated a few on my Instagram here:

Cosmopolitan Mag has also compiled a great list too:

Stay safe everyone!

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