Ode to Words (Part 2): Word Soup

Photo by Pierre Chatel Innocenti on Upsplash
As I mentioned in Ode to Words (Part 1): One Line Wednesday, I recently attended a workshop on racial and gender equity. While there, and as part of the workshop, I was exposed to words that were mostly unfamiliar to me:

systemic oppression…equity-focused…gender justice lens…power imbalances…patriarchy…unpacking white privilege…micro aggressions…gender policing…monosexism…tokenism…White Fragility…intersectionality…

As I listened, perplexed, and watched others around me nodding and murmuring understanding, I felt oddly…isolated.

Have you ever played that game with yourself where you repeat a common, known, word over-and-over until it loses all meaning, all sense? Words are funny things, aren’t they? They can be powerful and meaningful—listen to any Barack Obama speech—or absurd—read any of DonaldTrump’s tweets, or heck listen to him speak extemporaneously.

systemic oppression…equity-focused…gender justice lens…power imbalances…patriarchy…unpacking white privilege…micro aggressions…gender policing…monosexism…tokenism…White Fragility…intersectionality…

As the word soup continued to pour down on me, I wordsmith, felt lost at sea, drowning; all around me bright eyes, and nodding heads bobbing above the water, full of understanding.

Words are magical. They can weave a spell and lull you to sleep, or slap you awake and keep you woke. They can illuminate a path of understanding, or trap you in a thicket of confusion. I was lost, sinking quickly in a quagmire: I am good; you are bad.
Words can paint us in stripes of victory, or they can cast us into flames of victim-hood.

systemic oppression…equity-focused…gender justice lens…power imbalances…patriarchy…unpacking white privilege…micro aggressions…gender policing…monosexism…tokenism…White Fragility…intersectionality…

There I stood, wet, soaked to the bone, mute, and apparently also deaf, while all around me tongues wagged in…well, tongues. Tongues lashing in a pantomime of accusations and assigned guilt. I thought about Billy, a character of mine from a short story titled, “Howdy, Billy, Cabbage, Ma’am.” I thought about a particular passage in which he addresses the reader to be specific. I share that excerpt with you here.

EXCERPT

I should mention here that when I was a child, I had a problem processing language. I can only explain my disability by saying it was as if everyone around me had formed an allegiance against me and, using familiar sounds and syllables, had created a secret language. Thus, what people said often was not what I heard, prompting me to make wholly inappropriate responses. Once, when someone greeted me with, “Howdy, Billy,” I, in all sincerity, responded with “Cabbage, ma’am.” Though that was an isolated and extreme example of my early handicap, the story was oft repeated and has become part of our family lore; it clings to me with the tenacity of political scandal.

As a result, I do not trust language, do not trust words spoken to me. Perhaps that is why I became a writer. But, I digress. Back to the story at hand.
—From “Howdy Billy, Cabbage Ma’am,” Damaged Angels

Check back next week for Part 3 of this post, Ode to Words (Part 3): Silence. Missed Part 1? Read it here.  

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