We took the title of this piece from "Sledgehammer of a Word" published in Synthesis/Regeneration 48, pp. 14-15.
Though Ms. Reed's article was prompted by a recent incident that occurred at the Surviving Climate Change roundtable whose participants were from various progressive organizations, Ms. Reed used the incident to remind us that,
"if there were a piece of legislation or a policy that explicitly discriminated against African Americans, most progressive white people would take to the streets in a heartbeat, sincerely and stridently raising hell. But many of those same people do not recognize their subconscious attachment to a culture built around white supremacy. Manifestations of this attachment are often weird, verging on the surreal. How else could a perfectly intelligent person stand in front of a progressive gathering and say the word Negro to an African American woman in an arguably pointless bid to ban a pronoun." Let's examine the incident directly. As Ms. Reed describes it, she had just "used the word 'we' in describing the systems that perpetuate institutionalized poverty." A middle-aged white male stood up to comment. Ms. Reed paraphrases his comment:
"We should become more sensitized to the word 'we' just as we have become sensitized to the word 'Negro.' We don't use the word Negro anymore. If I said Negro right now, people would probably get very upset."
Ms. Reed goes on to describe her internal reaction to the word "Negro": "If I hear it from a White person, I'm instantly immersed in the contempt and the pain. It feels particularly violent when I am in front of a majority white audience as I was that day. Nobody questioned or even seemed bothered by what occurred."
This incident is unfortunately representative of a dynamic that exists both locally and nationally that serves to undermine and often splinter progressive organizations and movements for social change. When we refuse to deal with this unpleasant reality within ourselves, our movements pay the price. This has happened in the lesbian/gay/bi/trans (LGBT) communities in the 1990s over the "Fight the Right" struggles and in the LGBT community now in California over Proposition 8. It has happened in the anti-war movement during the Viet Nam war and now with the war in Iraq. It is happening in various communities with the Green movement. It has also been a present dynamic within the movement for a just reconstruction of New Orleans.
There is a solution to this...