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A Curious Turn of Phrase

Language is a funny thing. I should know, I play with it often and regularly rejoice at its wonders, turning it this way and that like a prism trying to catch the light just right.

It's curious how the way a thing is called can either blind or illuminate. Take the word terrorism for example. We have been so conditioned to envision with that word the dusky Muslim from the other side of the world that we fail to recognize it when it comes from another, closer source. Like the shooter of politicians at a baseball park or the bomber who put OKC on the map for all the wrong reasons. You may be heartened to know that the powers that be have decided that the ballpark shooter had no “nexus to terrorists.” I guess lone individuals who spray into a crowd are only terrorists if they’re Muslim.

Or consider the words hate crime. This phrase bears a striking similarity to the word racism, in that the dominant consciousness allows as how it may exist in the abstract, yet almost never concedes its reality in any specific instance. In the context of their now-normal usage, these words, and the emotions they conjure, only permit the mind to conceive of the concept but never admit to its practical application.

I think of the young Muslim woman pulled from the street and beaten to death in Virginia, and listen to the official report that the criminal who took her life didn't commit a hate crime but rather succumbed to an overwhelming case of road rage. This young hijab wearing woman presented a powerful image to the American consciousness that is nearly irresistible in its enmity to some. To conclude that the criminal was not affected by that image and did not act upon it – even if only subconsciously -- is either chronically naïve or willfully ignorant. It is far more likely that the criminal’s rage had to do with the fact that a towel headed terrorist and her similarly outfitted fellow teenage terrorists had the nerve to be blocking the road.

I think about the multitudes of African American men categorized, harassed, brutalized and murdered by American police in a daily basis; yet one after the other their crimes are forgiven by a “justice” system that refuses to acknowledge the deep-seated hatred that police are programmed to feel, with them as the “us” and we as the “them.”

I think about the code words multicultural and ethnic, always used to describe people who are non-white – as if white folks don't have a culture or an ethnicity. For setting one group up as the standard bearer makes all else identifiable only to the extent it deviates from that standard. It is a magical way of using language to erase all others from the dictionary of the mind who don’t fit the mold.

This conditioned blindness has cloaked many an odious deed in the clothing of acceptable actions. It's time to throw off that garment. Time to step out from behind the wall of lies that words can create and call a thing what it is. For naming a thing is the first step in freeing yourself from its clutches. And that's not just a curious turn of phrase. That's truth.

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