Language, words, is a very powerful because it has the power to reveal.
In an exchange with the Pharisees who were criticizing him for not making sure his disciples washed their hands before eating bread, as the tradition of the elders stipulated, Jesus said to them, “The thing proceeding from the mouth does not defile the man, but the thing proceeding from the mouth, this defiles the man.” (Matthew 15:11)
Later in an explanation to his disciples of his statement, Jesus said, “The things proceeding from the mouth come out from the heart, and these defile the man. For from the heart comes out evil reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornifications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemy. These are the things defiling the man, but eating with unwashed hands do not defile the man.” (Matthew 15:18-20)
What is Jesus saying here? The things that come out of a person’s mouth open a window into that person’s heart. Through what comes out of that person’s mouth, it can be seen what is truly in that person’s heart, whether or not s/he realizes it’s there.
And what comes out of a person’s mouth many times every day? Words.
And while it takes time to do this, it is crucial for each person to examine what is behind and the implications of the words s/he uses, even words that s/he might not realizes reveals something.
Such as underlying perceptions and attitudes regarding race. For example, some years ago, I came to the realization that it was common for sportscasters to use words like intelligent, smart, and the like, when referring to an athlete who was black. Rarely, though, did I ever hear a sportscaster use those types of words when discussing an athlete who was white.
You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal with that?”
It’s a big deal because I believe that the lack of use when discussing a white athlete reveals that the base assumption about him/her is that s/he is intelligent and smart and, therefore, does not need to be mentioned. The opposite regarding the black athlete is true. The base assumption about that athlete is that s/he is not intelligent or smart so it must be stated that s/he is intelligent and/or smart.
Words reveal underlying and unrealized attitudes and perceptions and assumptions and biases. In this case, white = intelligent and smart unless otherwise stated and black = dumb and ignorant unless otherwise stated.
Why is it that only Americans who happened to be caucasian are not referred to by a hyphenated moniker? Why is it that only those who are non-white Americans are referred to by using terms such as African-American or Asian-American or some other hyphenated American?
As Nobel Prize winner, Pulitzer Prize winner and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University Toni Morrison said, “In this country, being American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
What she is saying is that the words commonly used to denote certain groups of American citizens actually reveals an underlying definition, perception, and attitude of many people.
And I am more firmly convinced now, more than ever, that if the issue of race is going to truly be addressed at the heart level in this country, then it is imperative that what is revealed by words spoken or written as being present in the heart must truly be addressed. Until that is done, I truly do not believe there will be significant movement forward.
And the place where it can start, where it should start, the people who should take the lead in this, is the people of God for, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the region of Galatia, “there is not Jew nor Greek, there is not slave nor free person, there is not male nor female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.”
If the people of the Kingdom of God who are to demonstrate the reality and character and makeup of the Kingdom of God here on earth cannot do so, how can it be expected for those not of the Kingdom to do so? Yet it is very common for local congregations to be quite homogeneous when it comes to racial and ethnic backgrounds.
It is true here in Fort Dodge, IA. And it’s not just local congregations that are primarily white. It is also local congregations that are primarily black. There exists what is called a “silo mentality,” and while any effort that does not truly address that mentality is something some would say is better than nothing, in reality, it isn’t better than nothing because it doesn’t address what is at the root, causing what has happened and, therefore, no true forward movement has happened.