This post has nothing to do with my books, it’s political in nature. It’s also tl;dr.
I’m old. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, and even though I lived in a diverse area I can’t deny that casual bigotry was a part of everyday life, of popular culture. People made racist, sexist, homophobic─and every other offensive category you can think of─comments and didn’t think anything of it. They were rarely, if ever, called out.
This past Saturday I had a long conversation with my kiddo (who informed me that pushing 30 isn’t really a kid, but whatever) and we covered, among other things, that kind of casual bigotry. That particular thread was prompted by a search I ran on the Merriam Webster site while editing. I don’t even remember what I went there to look up because at the bottom of the page was a question: Do you know the racist origins of the phrase “tipping point”? After admitting that I did not, I clicked. (If you’d like to read for yourself, click here.)
The gist: white families moved out of neighborhoods when the percentage of black families reached 10-15%, which was their “tipping point” in an exodus nicknamed “white flight”. Just typing that sentence felt awful. That was in 1959 and sometimes it feels like as a nation, as a planet, we haven’t made much progress.
I realize for some people “tipping point” has moved into popular culture with a more generic meaning. But maybe not for everyone. I don’t remember ever using it casually before, but my intent is to stay away from it from now on.
I’m not trying to say I understand how hearing this (or similar words/phrases) feels from anywhere other than my own perspective, which is as a white woman who grew up queer in public housing. I’m not saying I’ve never made a remark or used an idiom with racist undertones─most of us have at one time or another, especially folks my age or older. Whenever I come across one, though, like I did on Saturday, I do the work to unpack it and educate myself so I can strike it from my lexicon. Without asking someone in the affected group to explain it to me. As someone who doesn’t really get the value of small talk (in a socially awkward kind of way), I would welcome the chance to make a new friend or chat with someone I already know by discussing a word or phrase, but educating me on how not to hurt them is not anyone’s job.
My contribution to Indigenous Peoples’ Day—as a descendant of immigrants—is to ask my friends to do the same. If you see a statement or word or phrase that had seemed innocuous but turns out to be otherwise, research it (using reputable sources); if it turns out to be offensive, let it fade from use.
I’ve turned off comments for this post because I don’t want any cookies for saying this publicly. If you agree with me please don’t share this post, instead please raise the voice of someone who’s talking about this from a closer perspective, someone who’s been personally affected by the casual racism and intolerance that so many seem not to hear or see.
Picture courtesy of BogdanaLS at pixabay.com