Words are tools, and they can be weapons. I build my business with words, and words can be keys to understanding — and open doors and minds. But sometimes we need to unlearn that we think we know-because words can be weapons too.
When I was in 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 he 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 so-called “critical race theory,” this is an academic idea that some commentators and politicians have latched onto to scare parents that their kids are being taught some radical concept. But to teach that racism is not the product of individual bias or prejudice, but deeply embedded in government systems and policies is far from radical. And, teaching that systemic racism exists is teaching the truth, saying it does not exist is the definition of systemic racism, and worse, banning the discussion of systemic racism is censorship.
The communications key is not to bite on the ridiculous fear factor of false critical race theory arguments. Bernays knew that you engage where you have an advantage- and countering distortions directly, only validates lies.
The point is, telling the truth about racism, discrimination 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 - history is about the truth, not what makes us feel good. As the great historian James Loewen put it “So long as our textbooks hide from us the roles that people of color have played in exploration, from at least 6,000 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 for what they are, and not waste time debating facts vs myth. Common ground, no matter how thin, still exists. We need to find what binds us, not what shuts us down.