Carol Anderson's editorial in today's Washington Post contextualizes Michael Brown's death (and the upsetting reality of the failed indictment of his shooter) as part of America's institutionalized white rage. One of the staggering paragraphs in her piece reminds us of Lee Atwater's 1981 comments on the codified language of racism:
The landscape of American rhetoric is rife with this kind of coded speech. Words and phrases are bled of their original meaning and then used to paint a veneer that covers rage/anger/fear. As people who work with words, we have to ask not only what words may mean, but what they do. Do they obscure? Do they inhibit? Do discursive press conferences mask stark truths? What does the accumulation of this kind of masking language does to our ears and minds? And if you live in a house that has Fox News or MSNBC on every day, how do the repeated refrains of the hosts affect your thoughts?
It's my belief that the current state of language in the United States skirts dangerously close to the condition Toni Morrison warned of in her 1993 Nobel speech:
If we want to prevent the systematic looting of language in America, we must be better at celebrating and promoting individuals and outlets that continue to explore the nuanced nature of words and ideas: long-form neutral reporting, books/tv/film/plays that refuse to indulge in easy tropes, and politicians brave enough to say "I don't know." If we don't, we will continue to live in a country where empty words fill the air while an insidious rage bubbles beneath.