K.Bain – The Significance of Liberated Language
The frequencies and energy vibrations embedded in language (Makoni, et al, 2003; Skipper, 2022) help to shape the consciousness levels of a people. Language has been weaponized as an instrument of oppression (Roche, 2022; Hawkins, 1999), a tool for dehumanization, and as an enabler of various forms of emotional and psychological abuse (Bolinger, 2021). But language can also be deployed positively, as a means towards freedom, justice, and equity (Baker-Bell, 2013). The artist and the activist alike appreciate that language is one of the most important components of culture – there is both a science and an art to how the medium of language is used in society.
As an ambassador of human justice, I am aligned with the wisdom of Don Miguel Ruiz, who stated that “Every human is an artist, the dream of your life is to make beautiful art” and I subscribe to the profound sagacity of Toni Cade Bambara who taught us that “the role of an artist is to make revolution irresistible”. Each time I (or any of my comrades in this struggle for human justice) share a piece of writing, engage in public speaking, or lead liberation chants at rallies, we are wielding the power of the word. We understand that words not only have meanings, but words carry energy. People of color in general and Black people specifically in this country have been subjected to the gamut of derogatory stereotypes consistently perpetuated using low energy language such as but not limited to; poor, disparate, deviant, gang banger, welfare queen, ghetto, loud, wild, lazy, convict or felon. These and other related terms have served as catalysts for poor self-images and a negative identity globally.
I once heard an elder say that “when writing the story of your life, do not allow anyone else to hold the pen.” There are many of us who have made commitments to liberated language, to actuating our higher frequency voice, and to institutionalizing language that speaks to truth, liberation, freedom, healing, love, and respect for the dignity of oppressed people. We are unified in our understanding of the consequences of accepting destructive normalized references and standardized derogatory terms from mainstream society. We are aware of the implications of words being weaponized to undermine our humanity. Communities of color cannot truly begin to heal from the impact of years of strategic disinvestment and generational systemic oppression accentuated by destructive language without continuing to embrace a more critically analytical position and application on the matter of liberated language (Halfin, 2002).
I echo the sentiments of my mentor Eddie Ellis, an illustrious activist, leader and Founder of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, who said “we habitually underestimate the power of language”. In his famous letter “An Open Letter to Our Friends on the Question of Language” Ellis, while explaining the power of words, alluded to the importance of naming ceremony in ancient tradition.
“Your name indicated not only who you were and where you belong, but also who you could be. The worst part of repeatedly hearing your negative definition of me, is that I begin to believe it myself”.
He went on to explain that words like convict, inmate, felon, offenders show a complete lack of understanding and depicts semantic inaccuracies in defining a person’s image and identity. I rest on the shoulders of Eddie Ellis to denounce all forms of derogatory and offensive language that demean the noble essence of humanity.
Speaking on the significant role of liberated language, Cavario H. who is a national prison activist, accomplished author, and the founder of “Don Diva Magazine”, explores the psychological impact of the assimilation of derogatory language in Black community. “What words are my enemies using to interpret my reality?” he asks…. “I most certainly would be impacted by the words that were generated inside my head and framed my daily experience”. Cavario is an advocate that is engaged in remediation of the psychological damage done to the Black people by the assimilation of negative vibes. He also believes positive words are necessary to liberate our minds from the paralysis of negative words. Cavario, who is a longtime supporter of the Human Justice Network, recently participated in the October 10th, 2021 second annual NYC Human Justice March. He was quoted as stating that
“The urgent need to begin to discard thoughts and words that stifle our vision and embrace freedom with renewed positive vocabulary is essential to reclaiming our humanity.”
The Human Justice framework is positioned on this premise, with an interest in further amplifying our collective determination and expanding the frontiers of liberated language. This is a central component in the apparatus for the transformation and empowerment of historically oppressed people. The core of this movement revolves around uprooting systemic challenges while building social infrastructures for healing, reconciliation, love, respect, and harmony in systemically marginalized communities of color. We will continue to be intentional in the language as we hold our elected officials accountable and fight to effect legislation and policy implementation against racially discriminatory housing policies; race and class-based health disparities; gender discrimination; and food apartheid in hyper- segregated poverty pockets in both inner cities and rural areas.
Moreover, the Human Justice framework embodies a paradigm shift from Criminal Justice to Human Justice. This language and approach are revolutionary in that the existing Criminal Justice system contextually predetermines a sense of guilt, labeling individuals as “criminals” without the commencement of any trial. Such a system is inherently flawed and cannot offer, much less guarantee justice. It is when we instead begin with human as the starting point that justice becomes a probable option. In the spirit of liberated language, we can no longer describe our efforts as “hoping for the best”; instead, we must assertively “will” into existence those realities that we are actively working to create.
For example, we must continue to move away from appropriating language such as “managing crisis through systems”. The word “crisis” is a low frequency word and has multiple (e.g., emotional, political) negative connotations as does the word “manage”. Humans should not be managed.
The Human Justice Framework offers an alternative to the white supremacist systems that have been stifling black, brown and indigenous people of color for generations. Through it, we are building a Human Justice Network in which we are not merely included – we are involved. Through this simple, yet profound and intentional use of language we are leading the dialogue and informing the processes that guide resource allocation and procurement. Our liberation is inevitable.