Four little words


“Oppressive language does more than represent violence. It is violence. It does more than represent the limits of knowledge. It limits knowledge…No one would take the time to understand other languages, other views, other narratives…” — Toni Morrison

Since I stole the name for the blog domain and the idea of “A Counterfeit Journalist’s Blog” from a Toni Morrison speech, it seems only fair to give her credit. You should listen to her speech here. You’ll want to look for the September 24, 2010 podcast.

The speech plays with the idea of excluder and excluded–which is the same thing as oppressor and oppressed.

I think we like to tell ourselves that we are done with these narratives, particularly that of oppressor and oppressed. But, as a friend mentioned earlier today, there are a lot of people who feel like they don’t have a voice. The inability to voice one’s needs and concerns implies an oppressor. This can be an individual, a group, or the system.

How do we change this?

My friend suggests that we start really listening to others. I think he has a point. It’s far too easy–especially in a world where it’s possible to always be plugged in/turned on–for us to simply give our pleasantries, accept pleasantries, and move on. There’s not enough “real talk” as I put it the other day. Sometimes I’m not even sure who I can trust to talk to. And I realized recently how very lonely this makes me feel. Perhaps lonely beyond the “standard” lonely–moving to the type of lonely that caused me to cry in my car a week ago Wednesday with no real idea what triggered the tears.

A professor once told me I was only a real writer if I cried in the car for no reason from time to time.

I still haven’t figured out what this really means. Did he simply mean that writers are a melancholy lot? If so, he’s quite right. But I’m not convinced we’re more melancholy than anyone else. Setting this type of stipulation is unfortunate. It’s the same type of restriction that allows people to feel like they don’t–and in fact can’t–belong to a group.

My friend makes a point of asking: how are you doing? And the thing about it is, he means it. He wants to know. I asked him today how he could care so much about everyone. He wouldn’t give a good answer for this. Said he was a sensitive kid (who once hit someone over the head with a baseball bat, no matter). This is the easy answer. Nevertheless, I admire this quality in him. And I believe in what he’s trying to do. It’s a simple thing: how are you doing?

And we’ve been indoctrinated to give and receive platitudes.

Platitudes are lies.

How are you doing? It’s a way to connect with someone else. All it involves is listening.

How are you doing?

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