The other day I was scanning Twitter and ran across a provocative thread of posts from an attorney, librarian and writer named April Hathcock.
“Ok, friends,” she wrote, “We’re going to stop talking about “diversity & inclusion” when what we’re really talking about is race, racism, and whiteness … We’re going to stop talking about “diversity & inclusion” when what we’re really talking about is queer hate, trans hate, heteronormativity…We’re going to be intentional about the oppression and violence about which we speak. We’re going to be intersectional but also specific … We’ve been using intersectionality as an excuse to use feel good euphemisms. We’re going to stop doing that.”
I was intrigued by April’s reframing of the subject because not only does it appeal to the activists among us, in its specificity it can be used to disarm the cynic who dismisses diversity and inclusion efforts as unnecessary, liberal, PC mumbo jumbo. Let’s get real, April is saying.
In 2014, I published a book called STRONG INSIDE, a biography of Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. Wallace played at Vanderbilt University in the late 1960s, and as he made history on the basketball courts of the Deep South, Wallace feared for his life. He’d ask himself what’s the worst that could happen, and in his mind, he imagined being shot and killed somewhere like Starkville, Mississippi or Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he was routinely harassed by fans with threats with lynching or castration. Back on his own campus in Nashville, Wallace was kicked out of a white church, his best friend was addressed by the N-word on his first day of English class.
A few months ago, I converted STRONG INSIDE into a young readers’ edition, aimed at kids 10 and older. With concern over the sensitivities of some readers (or more accurately, their parents), I debated how much of the derogatory language to keep in this condensed version of the book. In the end, I opted to keep all of it. The truly offensive thing, I decided, would be to whitewash history and let the racists off the hook by sanitizing their words, and in so doing minimizing the hostility and discrimination Wallace encountered and so courageously overcame.
So, I appreciate that this isn’t international diversity day. It’s the International Day for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination. And this year’s theme isn’t “Celebrate (Insert Diverse Name Here) Culture Day.” Rather, the theme is “Racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration.”
This is the kind of real language April Hathcock was calling for. And a reminder that sometimes being careful about the language we use means telling it like it is, not cleaning it up.
About the Author
Andrew Maraniss is the New York Times-bestselling author of STRONG INSIDE. The original, adult version of the book received the Lillian Smith Book Award for civil rights and the RFK Book Awards’ Special Recognition Prize for social justice. The Young Readers edition has been named one of the Top 10 Biographies for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @trublu24, and visit his website at www.andrewmaraniss.com