Language has always been powerful, words from a young age the panacea for skinned knees or the bludgeon worse than leather belts or closed fists. We see the world through words, soft words, hard words, correct words and changed words. The words of a world that defines us and confines us, a world that wishes us to be different than we are or more accepting of our position within it. Our world expands or contracts based upon how we are defined, how we define ourselves within the narrow confines of a language that may not be our own, yet is the only one we know.
Over time, words change and with those changes, our view of the world may be moved. The things we once believed, thought were written in concrete become mud and we are left wondering if all our preconceived notions of the world must be reexamined in light of our new understanding. These changes of course, this reexamination requires first a heart and mind willing to consider new ideas. It also requires the intellect to see through the barriers of history and how society uses language and symbols to create new meanings, divisions and sometimes-even reconciliation.
Occasionally, we are thrown out of our comfort zones by language. Other times we co-op language to make others uncomfortable, or perhaps simply to force a change in perception. We tend to combine language and symbols, making connections with those we might otherwise have nothing in common with or who we might otherwise choose never to associate with. The only thing drawing us together, our common language and adherence to the symbols we claim as defining us as a group, as our stake in heritage and pride, whether national or otherwise.
Whether these symbols and the language surrounding them are flags, guns, uniforms, a badge or some other mark of distinction; they set us apart. In many cases what once were used to define boundaries and defy a world finally are being exposed for the symbols of ignorance, subjugation and violence they always were, without the whitewashed language that has surrounded them for fifty plus years. The language, the words to describe this symbol of horror were many, most were lies yet we all turned away allowing the lies to stand until finally they could stand under the glare of historical truth no more.
Of course, these truths were always there, always right before our eyes we simply allowed the lies to stand. We, as a nation allowed a small minority to change the truth, to rewrite history and fly their symbols of hate, bigotry, fear and slavery over public buildings and within state flags without saying a single word to expose the truth. We, the people of this nation turned away from the truth without a word, we shook our heads and allowed a lie to stand for nearly sixty years even knowing the insidious nature of the lie, we allowed it to stand to infect another generation and become accepted as a truth. That is the nature of language, of words and of allowing the defeated to rewrite history.
I grieve at our willingness to continue the lie generation to generation. The language we use to hide the truth of our terrible history and its continued impact today. I am dismayed at the hubris of so many who believe they can rewrite our terrible history, deny its truth and the ongoing truth of racism, hate, intolerance this nation continues to support. Words, language how we use them tend to ultimately define us, ultimately show who we are. This is true even when we attempt to change the meaning of things, the meaning of symbols and the words surrounding them.
We have watched this play out over the past weeks with the Confederate Battle Flag. We have watched the defenders using language of “Heritage not Hate” and “States Rights”. We have seen the Memes slide across social media about the secession of the southern states not being about protecting their right to own human beings. Those of us who understand the truth of that flag, the history of that flag tried to educate, tried to refute these lies and some of us lost friends. Many who revered the Confederate Battle Flag they didn’t know this wasn’t anything more than a Battle Flag, they didn’t know it was only unfurled in 1961 in protest of Civil Rights. They didn’t know the true history that this battle flag was unfurled in protest of the undoing of Jim Crow laws in the South, of not being able to subjugate, abuse and lynch the former slaves their ancestors had turned traitor to keep enslaved.
I mourn this nation, we buy pabulum fed to us without challenge and despite the evidence to the contrary allow lies to stand as truth.
Grace, something we need heaped upon us. The President spoke of Grace when he sent State Sen. Clementa Pinckney home with a powerful eulogy. On the floor of the South Carolina House as they debated the removal of the Battle Flag, this was the most compelling fifteen minutes I heard, I hope you will listen.
Grace, we need it. We need to find the language to heal this nation. We need to find the words to lift ourselves up from the mire of the lies we have told ourselves. We need to start pulling the threads of truth from the great ball of bullshit we have rolled up and allowed to stand in our proverbial town square as truth. We must knock down the memorials to traitors and begin to lift up the true heroes of our nation, begin to tell the true stories of our nation, begin to learn from them and progress toward a future that lifts all of us up.
Grace, we have little of it right now though what we do have comes far too often from those with the least reason to show it, to give it. It is time we begin to open the doors and windows and give it back, starting with an acknowledgement of truth.