The Power of Words

16 Oct

Today I’m writing about words and choices.

In our post-colonization societies, the use of words still reminds us (if we are aware and paying attention) of who is in charge, and who has value – and who doesn’t – in the eyes of the state.

Take some of the names of sports teams, for example.

Last week, Jerry Howarth (long time Toronto Blue Jay’s announcer) was interviewed by the Toronto Star. He said that he hasn’t used the full name of the Cleveland baseball team in decades, because it’s offensive to First Nations people. Not only is their name offensive, their logo is as well – see below.


Jerry Howarth made this decision to not say the whole name because someone who identifies as First Nations took the time to write him a letter and tell him how offensive it was to them. It had never occurred to Jerry before that, he told the Toronto Star, but it changed his heart, and his mind. And his actions followed.

When things don’t impact us, we often don’t see them. While this may be hard to believe for the people that are impacted, it is really relatively easy to miss things if you’re not. Why? Because we are surrounded by messages every day that are steeped in racism and the legacies of colonization, that tell us who and what has value, and who doesn’t. Those messages are pretty clear – by omission and commission – and we soak them up without questioning. And voilà! We repeat disrespectful team names and perpetuate various other acts that degrade and disrespect people – mostly people who are “not like us” – probably without giving it a second thought. Because we are not impacted by it.

Cleveland isn’t the only team. The Washington Red Skins are another – and they recently appealed a US Supreme Court decision cancelling their trademark registration because it doesn’t trademark names that ‘potentially disparage people”. Here is what John Oliver had to say about it.

It’s not just about sports.
Take a moment to think about the things you say without thinking – sayings you’ve grown up with, for example – that perpetuate stereotypes, negative assumptions and promote discrimination and inequity for a group (I’m not going to list them, but think about it. They are usually cultural or race-based).

Words have power.
Jerry Howarth is using the absence of a word to send a strong message about respect. We all have choices about the words we use and choose not to – and each of those choices either adds a voice to the struggle for equity and inclusion, or is complicit in undermining that struggle.

What’s your choice?

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Want a challenge?
Sign up for my weekly Inclusion Insight – same topic, but with a challenge to help you see more.



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