The Ways We Write About Black Lives Matter

Black lives matter. Our words do, too. 

Where it began…

In the wake of the loss of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, I found myself scrolling through my social media feeds. For what I was seeking is beyond me, but what I found was the echo chamber of my fellow social justice compatriots.

All it took was one sturdy swipe of my thumb, and there it was: “Stop Killing Black People.” In that moment, I mimed the movement of a victorious junior varsity football coach on the icy end of a team-led Gatorade shower. Minus the elation. Minus anything to celebrate. Back arched and breath extinguished, I stared at the words. Written IN ALL CAPS.

I’ve been here before. Actually, I’m often here — as in the space when someone says something in my presence on the spectrum of being recklessly inappropriate to inexcusably out of line. These particular four words fell somewhere in the middle. And I know because I mentally catalogue experiences like this one. Yes, I do indeed Dewey Decimal the derogatory. This is what happens when you are a person of color in the United States of America. This is what happens when you are a woman on planet Earth. This is what happens when you are anything but the hegemony. The catalogue serves an arbiter of my existence, and sometimes I call ‘foul’.

Which led me to realize…

Time and reflection are two peas whose pod I aim to visit often. With hindsight, I now have a hypothesis for why this post was so jarring.

Writers — both amateur and professional — fill the intellectual real estate space of digital and print landscapes with their words. There are over abillon active monthly users on Facebook300 million people on Twitter, andmore than 1,000 daily newspapers are printed across the United States. The frequency of racially-charged events creates endless opportunities to professionally report and personally respond.

As stated in Psychology Today’s “The Most Dangerous Word”:

Fear-provoking words — like poverty, illness, and death — also stimulate the brain in negative ways. And even if these fearful thoughts are not real, other parts of your brain (like the thalamus and amygdala) react to negativefantasies as though they were actual threats occurring in the outside world. Curiously, we seem to be hardwired to worry — perhaps an artifact of oldmemories carried over from ancestral times when there were countless threats to our survival.

There it was. The ill-worded post catalyzed the joyless Gatorade shower of my momentarily deregulated state. Boy, was I peeved. And sad. And resolved.

So to all the social justice warriors, and those who simply ever tweet, type, or put pen to paper…

In our current sociopolitical context, the chances are high that certain events will evoke cause for words — both spoken and written. That being said, here’s a note to all of us communicators out there: be careful with your words. We are all reading, internalizing, and being impacted by them. Your charged statements need to take an affirmative form as often as possible. Rather than negatively shouting for a stop, express your desire for the involved party to be held accountable for their actions. Or, perhaps, you can speak to a positive vision for what should be the modern measure of how Black people, if the situation calls for it, are regarded.

The need and desire to capture a moment in written form must be conscious of a commitment to be empathic of those on the receiving end. Social justice writers have a role to play in advancing the well-being of readers — in particular those most impacted by the action, event, or circumstance.

There is a dire need for impactful writing that uplifts and upholds. To be sure, this is not a veiled advertisement for a lifetime subscription to rose-tinted glasses. It is an invitation to frame your words in life-giving affirmatives that matter to Black lives.