Words are tools, and they can be weapons. I build my career with words, and words can be keys to understanding - and open doors and minds. But sometimes we need to unlearn what we think we know- because words can be weapons too.
When I was at college, I met Dr. Edward L. Bernays, the father of public relations. He got to the point where defining something was the beginning and end of a discussion. In his book Propaganda, he wrote “There are invisible rulers who control the destinies of millions. It is not generally realized to what extent the words and actions of our most influential public men are dictated by shrewd persons operating behind the scenes.”
And, if Bernays were here today, he would see how systemic racism and hatred has manifested its agenda by staking out a term and using it as a wedge. Look at “critical race theory,” an academic idea that some commentators and politicians have latched onto to scare parents that their kids are being taught some radical concept. It says that racism is not the product of individual bias or prejudice, but embedded in government systems and policies. And, while that is true - and teaching that systemic racism exists is teaching the truth, presenting it does not exist is hateful. It is the definition of systemic racism, and worse, the banning the teaching of systemic racism is censorship.
The communications key is not to bite on the ridiculous scare factor of false critical race theory arguments, but to seek out more open ground. Bernays knew that you engage where you have an advantage- and countering distortions directly only validate lies.
The point is, telling the truth about racism, descrimation and the consequences of our past is not a theory, it is teaching facts. Saying it makes “people feel bad about the past,” themselves and the nation is ridiculous. As the great historian James W. Loewen put it “So long as our textbooks hide from us the roles that people of color have played in exploration, from at least 6000 BC to the twentieth century, they encourage us to look to Europe and its extensions as the seat of all knowledge and intelligence. So long as they say discover, they imply that whites are the only people who really matter. So long as they simply celebrate Columbus, rather than teach both sides of his exploit, they encourage us to identify with white Western exploitation rather than study it.”
Good communication is simple, tell the truth, support the truth, and be direct and honest about what you believe in. We need to call out lies, say what they are, and not waste time debating facts vs myth.