First, I wonder why Peacebang jumps to the conclusion that the words “brown bag” have been banned at Starr King. That’s not what the article says, nor implies. Instead, an educational moment is described in which organizers of an event say they’ll be using a different term: “byol” for “bring your own lunch.” It seems to me that this kind of moment is an example of exactly the kind of education our ministers need.Â No one was shamed orÂ ridiculed or told what they could or could not say.Â (More that I can say for the tenor of the conversation at Peacebang’s blog…)
They were simply given the opportunity to learn about a way language can sometimes evoke the pain and ghosts of the past. I’ve just gotten back from almost five months at Starr King and I received no list of banned phrases nor any hint that I was dealing with folks for whom “the world was awfully full of oppression.”Â I found people full of joy who take words seriously and are willing and able to have nuanced, caring, and interesting conversations about the power of words.
It’s likely that the term “brown bag lunch” isn’t directly connected to the history of measuring “acceptable” skin tones against a paper bag.Â ButÂ I don’t know that. MaybeÂ “brown bag lunches” once meantÂ thatÂ the darker skinned folks weren’t welcome.Â Â I could say that doesn’t matter,Â but that’s easy for me to say. My skin color has never been used to exclude me.Â Yet, knowing that history, isn’t it a bit arrogant and insensitive of me to insist that my freedom to say “brown bag lunch” is more important than the possibility of evoking that painful piece of history?Â What about my desire to hang on to the constant association of blackness and darkness with evil?Â Since it doesn’t affect me, why should it matter?
Is care with words really too “politically correct” for you?Â Â Maybe “those people” are just being “too sensitive again?” There was a time when I would have wondered. Â But now I have a sixteen-year-old African-American son who is reminded every damn day that he is not welcome and it’s the status quoÂ that more men like him are in jail than in college. I don’t think it’s asking too much for us to learn something about the history of language and choose to use words that don’t remind, reinforce, and even reify the racist past and present.Â Because in my life it’s sticks and stones that break bones, but words that really hurt…
I’m proud of Starr King and proud to have been educatedÂ at an institution that refuses to compromise on its commitment to countering oppression, no matter how small the matter or how many people think the work is “ridiculous.” In this instance, and in every instance I’ve seen, the school and its leaders have done exactly what they have said they would do: they have educated to counter racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and oppression in all its forms. I don’t think that’s ridiculous.
***Once again, I feel the need to say I speak for myself, not for my congregation or as a member of the SKSM board. Though I can say I am on the board because I feel this way about the school and its mission.***