Missing blessings and the weight of words

Dear President Trump,

Maybe my Google search skills are faltering this morning, but I can’t find anything at all online about what either Chief Anne Richardson (Rappahannock tribe) or Chief Stephen Adkins (Chickahominy tribe) said in their respective blessings at the Jamestown commemoration yesterday. Nothing. Nada. There are references to the fact that they were set to give the invocation and the benediction, respectively, but nothing telling us what their blessings included. There are lots of quotes from others, and of course reams about what you said, but nary a hint as to what the two representatives of the indigenous peoples whose land was stolen and wrecked had to say about any of it. Hopefully this online omission will be corrected soon because I think we need to hear from them, much like we needed to see Ibraheem Samirah’s sign urging us to deport hate and imploring us to reunite his family.

Did you read the statement issued by the leaders of the Washington National Cathedral? No, of course you didn’t and of course you won’t. But you should and so should every politician, every person who has either contorted themselves into pretzels to claim you are not a racist and your words are not racist or who is being complicit in their silence. I know the statement is largely going to function as a (strong) show of solidarity for the people, communities, and countries you are now routinely attacking and attempting to debase, but it would be so nice if even a few minds and hearts were opened at least a little bit by it. I’m sure those clergy members didn’t take the step of issuing such a statement lightly as some will see this as a violation of the separation of church and state edict. They don’t address this in the statement, but my guess is that they felt the imperative to condemn your violent, dehumanizing words because, as they point out and as we all know, words can be very dangerous, especially words coming from a POTUS.

One of the major threads running through the Undoing Racism workshop last week was related to all this; the importance of the language we choose to describe ourselves and one another. We focused on whether the words used by non-group members match or do not match what group members call themselves. We especially unpacked the word “minority” and many of us saw for the first time how it doesn’t just connote a numerical comparison but that the root word “minor” really means lesser in importance or significance. Words matter.

Words matter whether we examine their deeper meanings or we gloss over them and pretend they’re not a big deal and insist that people should just get over themselves already. If our words lead us to think of numerically smaller groups among us as minority groups (and I’ll admit, it’s going to take me some time to not automatically default to that language), as lesser in importance than the majority group, then it’s not much of a stretch to think that someone on high telling people in those groups to go back to “where they came from” is all that big a deal because, gee, they’d probably be happier where they wouldn’t be in the minority (or whatever stupid rationalization someone might conjure).

Honestly, you know words matter, don’t you? You know you are inciting hate and violence when you use such nasty tropes – this is exactly why you keep doing it.

You also know that it matters who gets to talk, that it matters who is heard, that it matters whose words are recorded for posterity, and that it matters that we can’t get away from your words while Richardson’s and Adkins’ words seem to have evaporated into thin air.

May we be safe to speak up, to say what is real and true.
May we be happy to retrain our ears and minds to hear people we aren’t accustomed to hearing.
May we be willing to redo language and word choices as needed so they are healthy for us all.
May we make peace with the vast amount of work ahead.

Tracy Simpson

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