The Importance of Naming

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Love-hateSometimes it is important to identify things, to name them, to call them out. Naming allows us to remember. It gives us a reference point, focuses our attention.

The Orlando attack very early in the morning on June 12 on Pulse, a gay nightclub, is one of those times. It was hate aimed at a specific population, our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ and Latino communities. The man who committed this horrific hate crime killed 49 people and injured dozens more.

Hate crimes target LGBTQ people more than any other group. The New York Times reported last week that the FBI

found that of the 5,462 single-bias hate crimes reported to police in 2014 nearly a fifth were targeted at members of the LGBTQ community, surpassing the number aimed at Jewish, Muslim, Black, Asian or Hispanic individuals.

Hate—verbal expressions or physical attacks—against the LGBTQ community must be named each and every time it occurs. Failure to do so is passive acceptance.

Another important “naming” is the Black Lives Matter movement, born from the frustration of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the 2013 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. One may disagree with the movement’s tactics or some of their positions, but declaring Black Lives Matter is a necessary expression. It’s important because police shootings and police misconduct disproportionately affects Black people. It’s important because of the systemic marginalization and violent mistreatment of African Americans throughout United States history. Look back to slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration brought on by the “War on Drugs,” redlining, and public schools that have utterly failed Black children.

Who gets to name things is important, too. It’s usually media, those with political power. But, if we insist that marginalized groups name their struggles—as happened with Black Lives Matter—we may more quickly get to the root of the problem.

During my tenure on the City Council I’ve focused on early childhood education and services designed to give every child a strong and fair start. Tragically, too many of our children are being left behind, especially children living in poverty and children of color. There are many reasons, but the underpinnings are tied directly to racism and our inattention to the crisis of opportunity we have allowed to grow and grow over decades for our Black neighbors. That’s why naming it matters. Black lives do matter, for all of us.

Sometimes our political rhetoric needs naming as well. Look no further than Donald Trump. He has based his campaign for president on hateful, racist, misogynistic and dangerously nationalistic language and actions. It needs to be named for what it is.

Words matter. Hate spawns more hate. Left unchecked, hate leads to violence.

Here’s what journalist Alex Massie wrote after the assassination last week of Jo Cox, a member of the British parliament, gunned down and stabbed to death in her northern England district by a nationalist extremist. “Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered . . . that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.”

Massie was writing about the campaign leading up to Thursday’s vote on whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union. What he wrote applies here as well because no matter where you are hate speech is incredibly harmful.

Naming things for what they are is important because once it has a name we can begin the process of change. We can work to enact responsible gun laws. We can reform American policing. We can continue the fight against racism. We can begin to untie the albatross of oppression so many of our people have carried around their necks for generations.

Let’s keep naming things for what they are.