Notes on Words


I’m thinking about the way the press talks about Ferguson. I’m thinking about riots vs. protest vs. mostly peaceful protest vs. civil unrest. I’m thinking about those of us who do not live in Missouri, and how we don’t know really what it looks like. Choosing these words is like choosing the picture taken of an unarmed black boy or man who was shot. Look at any of the “if they gunned me down” photos. (I know it’s a hashtag. #TooFuckingLazy)


One of my facebook friends posted a quote about how you shouldn’t leap into a relationship with someone new immediately after a relationship ends. Take some time and be complete with Christ, she says. I of course would have said “figure out your own shit before you fall in bed with someone new.” Or at least before you fall in bed twice with someone new. I feel as if we are saying the same thing. DP, who grew up Catholic, would probably say we were saying different things. “Whackjob Christians,” I can practically hear him muttering under his breath now.


The Right is trying on the language of the Left. “Help, we’re oppressed,” say old white men. Our authority is being challenged. It’s a neat rhetorical trick, but if you have learned how to think critically, you can see right through it.


The population of students I work with are largely complacent. They come to school and go back home to live in the towns they grew up in, and essentially become their mothers and their fathers. They are mostly white and mostly good-intentioned (although many don’t try very hard) and pretty much entirely unaware of their shelteredness and privilege. So many of them are completely unequipped to see, much less question, their place in society. I watch them read and compare articles, and they are so busy trying to understand the material that they can’t even begin to see how to analyze it. They have no context, no critical thinking tools, no experience in looking critically at words on the page.

I very much want to bring the issues around Ferguson into the classroom. I want to show them the biases in their own ideas. I want to teach them about what institutional racism means. I want to show them how to choose their words and how to examine the implications of other people’s choices of words. But I am afraid of their ignorance, and am not sure where to begin.

Where did you begin?


One response to “Notes on Words

  1. Critical thinking begins when one listens, compares, and weighs opposing viewpoints, instead of dismissing all messages because we have been taught to ignore those with different creeds/colors/politics/religions/favorite sports teams.

    It’s okay to having different beliefs, but it is more useful to know exactly why you believe that way. The unexamined life—to misquote a much smarter person—is essentially inert and blissful ignorance is bland and insipid against the knowledge that your personal convictions have a solid, logical base.

    Or something.

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