Anti-racism & Stages of Grief

I wrote this for facebook but I’m posting it here for posterity.

I share a lot of posts about race and racism to bring awareness. I’m pretty sure it has caused a lot of my friends to mute all my posts since I get very little engagement on them. Let me know if you don’t have me muted.

This particular post is to share my journey to becoming antiracist. It’s not my intention to distance myself, to elevate myself in self promotion, or to be performative. I don’t consider myself better than anyone else, I just have knowledge and have spent time doing deep reflective work. I’m not done nor will I ever be done with that self-reflection, as antiracism requires, but I have moved through all the stages of grief to acceptance. 


I have heard through the grapevine that people I know are in those early stages of grief as they become more aware of how racist and oppressive our country and society really is. This post is for them. What I hope those people will see is that wherever you’re at is fine, but for things to change for all people for the better, you gotta work through all the stages, feel all the feelings, and then commit yourself to DOING something. By putting all my vulnerabilities out there, admitting the ways in which I was wrong, I hope you can find the strength to keep going. 

Becoming antiracist is a journey, a hard one, full of guilt and discomfort and depression and wondering how to find joy in a world that is so oppressive of people. I have felt lost having all this new old knowledge and not knowing what to do with it. Feeling hopeless. Fucking up! And fucking up again, and again. And learning from those mistakes. Then doing.

Here’s how it began: Continue reading “Anti-racism & Stages of Grief”

A Meandering Review of “Reclaiming Our Space” by Feminista Jones

Feminista Jone‘s Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets is the first book I have read that delves into modern Black Feminism. It gives definitive histories of several high profile Black feminists who have made their way in the world through social media and the internet. The first few chapters talks of origin stories, both of the feminists/womanists themselves as well as the hashtags that helped launch modern movements that center support around Black lives and Black women.

I am a white woman who has recently started her journey toward becoming involved in social justice. Since around June or July 2017, when I ‘formerly’ rejoined Twitter in pursuit of a new academic goal on obtaining a PhD in Linguistics, I began to follow Black women. At first I started with linguists, who then RT’d Black feminists, who utilitized Follow Friday to show me the way to other Black women. My following count shot from about 160 to 400 in a matter of a few months, and currently it sits around 870; many of those people are Black women who educate the Twitterverse about social justice issues.

Reading the origin stories included in Jones’s book gave me a whole new appreciation to the women I have been following for nearly two years. It has given me background to who they are, where they pour their energies, and how they have created national and/or international movements in the name of Black liberation from an intersectional way of living.

Jones’s love of hip-hop permeates this book, adding a unique voice that will resonate with its music fans and give additional perspective to those of us who are not familiar with the genre.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Reclaiming Our Space is that Feminista Jones was just as much as an online person as I have been. In Chapter 3, “Thread!”, she shares stories of the internet as it used to be: the days of AOL chatrooms and instant messanger, stories of the desire to connect with other people who would understand you way better than anyone IRL, the resulting internet meetups and how the internet has evolved since those days really mirrored a lot of my own experience. We obviously lived in different online circles, but a lot of what we sought from internet friends and acquaintances was much the same.

Jones gives details about how the internet has evolved with the invention of social media, and how Black women have really made it what it is today. There are many accounts within the book that shows how the current use of Twitter hashtags is indebted to the ingenuity of Black woman: from marketing campaigns to live-tweeting, from organizing conferences to galvenizing the public for movements in the streets. These ladies know what they’re doing.

I have been on Twitter on and off since June 2008. I had started to lose interest in Twitter just as many of these large campaigns for social justice took root. But at that point – between years 2010 and 2015 – I know I wouldn’t have been following the right people to hear wind of any of these movements, and if I did it would have been the wrong information. That’s how insular into my white privilege culture I was.

Since rejoining Twitter, and following many who have written anti-racism books, I am trying to get my hands on the books that I think will be the most useful in empowering the way I will think about the world for the better. Feminista Jones’s book is useful to white women in that she tells us exactly what we need to hear: Black women aren’t here to save us. She tells those hard-to-swallow truths that get white women in their feelings. Luckily for me I have already heard some of this before and can avoid getting butt hurt about it – or at least recognize that I need to sit with my feelings and reflect on them. One of the things Jones writes that really stuck with me is the following:

“[Liberal white women] seek comfort. They seek salvation. They seek alleviation from the burden of truth and the challenge of real action. They want to ensure that Black women keep showing up in the ways that serve their best interests, so this new onslaught of admiration has felt less celebratory and more like pressure to add more work to our already full plates so that they, too, might benefit from our labor. They’ve begun to see us as Mammy 2.0, the perpetual supplier of digital comfort and salvation. They regarded us as wise (we are), they acknowledged us as strong (we can be), and they tried to position us as wells from which they could drink and be filled with refreshingly new points of view that made them feel better about being White (you cannot). They did not want us to be who we are; accepting the complex fullness of our humanity would mean having to respect our right to say no, which may have eventually denied them access to whatever comfort they were seeking in these trying times. They believed they were complimenting us by saying ‘Black women will save us,’ ‘Black women have been right all along,’ and ‘We need to follow the lead of Black women,’ but they were not. They began to demand more work without our consent, masking it as praise, admiration, and support, all while projecting their fears onto us.” (pp. 149-150)

Jones’s no bullshit approach is the exact thing we white women need to hear. There are a few chapters full of information that white woman need to read to realize what kind of work we must acknowledge and do if we are truly going to help Black women and other marginalized women become liberated. What the above paragraph and other parts of this book has taught me, personally, is that while it is worthwhile and necessary to educate ourselves (as white women) with Black feminist thought, we must also remember that this is our work to be done. We need to stop relying so heavily on the labor Black women already do. We need to pick up our slack without trying to put more work onto Black women.

Feminista Jones has written a valuable book for our time. I was already beginning to explore Black Feminism in its origins (such as the Combahee River Collective statement, which Jones includes portions of in her book alongside her analysis), but this book has made me look to finding other recently published titles that center Black Feminism within the pages. Jones drives home what will truly lead us all to be free – free from racism, sexism, classism, and other isms – Black feminist thought and praxis.

Research on Word Choice is Far from Pointless

The New York Times published an article detailing analysis on Jane Austin’s word choice in her novels. It looked at specific words used and how and when she chose to use them. The article’s authors also compared word choice of British narrative fiction published between 1710 and 1920 to illustrate how Austin’s use of language allows her novels to transcend time and remain popular long after their original publishing.

This is the type of analysis that really lights a fire within me.

The comments on the article really irked me. But that’s really my problem. Most people who didn’t understand the point of the research aren’t English majors or care about literary analysis.

I wrote a comment in response to someone else who said, “this is pointless.” My response was poorly written as I was intoxicated at the time I wrote it. Ha! But I want to reiterate my response here in more detail.

Why does linguistic literary analysis matter? More specifically, why is analyzing word choice (or diction) important?

Humans intuitively know when something is well written or when someone speaks well. A person’s choice of words is indicative of how well educated they are, and his/her ability to relay information in a clear and cohesive way comes down to the meticulous choosing of appropriate words.

A timely example of this happened as I was reading the article. My husband had Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back on the TV. I turned around at a moment when Silent Bob, who usually is ‘mute’ in most circumstances, decides to speak up.

Banky: You know what? I feel for you boys, I really do. But Miramax – you know, Miramax Films – paid me a shitload of money for “Bluntman and Chronic.” So it occurs to me that people badmouthing you on some website is NONE OF MY FUCKING CONCERN!

Silent Bob: Oh, but I think it is. We had a deal with you on the comics, remember? For likeness rights? And as we’re not only the artistic basis, but also obviously the character basis for your intellectual property, “Bluntman and Chronic,” when said property was optioned by Miramax Films, you were legally obliged to secure our permission to transfer the concept to another medium. As you failed to do that, Banky, you are in breach of the original contract. Ergo, you find yourself in a VERY actionable position.

[Banky stares at Silent Bob in disbelief]


People know instinctively that Silent Bob just said a lot of fancy and smart words, or high level of diction. So why the disbelief?

Silent Bob’s constant companion is Jay, whose language is often crude and vulgar. Because Bob is friends with someone whose word choice typically involves frequent use of four letter words, the viewer may think that Bob would speak similarly. But the writer – Kevin Smith (who also plays Silent Bob) – made the conscientious decision to have Bob speak with higher diction. He uses words and phrases like “artistic basis”, “intellectual property”, “optioned by”, “legally obliged”, “transfer the concept to another medium”, “breach”, “ergo”, and “actionable”. There are many words he could have chose instead of these, but it would change the overall tone that Smith was going for.

Banky is in disbelief at what he just heard. Surely the audience feels the same way, and perhaps those viewers who are more in tune with Jay’s diction may feel a little lost at what Silent Bob is trying to convey. This is done with purpose. Many of these words and phrases rarely come up in casual conversation, but they are appropriately used in this situation between two men who have business dealings with each other.

Kevin Smith used diction – or word choice – as a rhetorical device to create a dimension to Silent Bob that is contrary to Jay and even Bob’s silent use of body language. Smith most likely originally wrote that piece of dialog more simply, then he went back and chose elevated diction to create a sense of irony.

This is what makes good writing.

Writing is a skill that takes a lot of thought and revision. Speaking well requires the same amount of conscious effort and practice. So when we come upon works that we know is well written upon first reading, what most people don’t think about is how it came to be well written in the first place: putting an enormous amount of thought into what words to use and how to use them.

First you have to know what the words mean, which is known as semantics. Then you have to know how to use that word in a sentence – known as syntax. From there, you can go even further with your writing by looking at pragmatics, “the study of what words mean in particular situations” (Merriam-Webster definition). You know to change the type of words you use depending on your purpose and audience; you wouldn’t speak to your boss the way you would speak with a close friend. The words you use in a cover letter when applying for a job would perhaps sounds stuffy if you used those same words when writing to a friend.

All these considerations is called rhetoric.

These are all skills you picked up subconsciously as you learned your native language starting as a baby. You know how to do change your diction depending on who you speak/write to without much thought and effort. However, if you take the time to really think about what words you use and the context you use them, you can play with different ways of saying the same thing to give a sense of emotion, to create foreshadowing, to exaggerate in a way that creates subtle irony, or to create a certain tone. There are so many different ways a piece of writing or speech can change meaning or emotion just based on the words that are used.

The NYTimes article was looking at Austin’s use of intensifiers from a pragmatic point of view. She consciously chose those types of words to use in specific situations to create irony and foreshadowing. A reader who is not consciously aware of what they are reading will still appreciate the diction on a surface level. But when you really get down to the individual words and where they’re placed and how they’re used, it allows you to see how a masterpiece is created. Having her novels charted against other published works at the time just based purely on choice of words, people can see that her choices were deliberate and not by happenstance. While intensifiers appear in other novels by other authors, it was HOW she used the words that gives her novels the vitality that other novels do not have.

When writers and speakers take the time to carefully consider each word they use, the result will automatically be appreciated by the reader or listener. Great writing and great speeches come from a lot of hard work: a lot of time and effort and thinking and revising and stepping back and rewriting and scrapping chunks that just don’t add anything meaningful to the piece as a whole… and and and…

So no, the research was not pointless. Quite the opposite. It’s just another way of looking at literature from the point of view of using new technology to identify what makes writing great.


TL;DR Why does this matter? Because knowing how words work and how they can be used will make you a better writer and/or speaker. Or as my husband likes to say to his students, “You can use diction to manipulate your audience.”