noun — a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.
Do you doubt the invincible power of words? When you stumble across an old recording of your mother and you hear her say, “I love you.” Words you took for granted while she was still alive and you assumed the days you had left to share were still infinite in time. Three words strung together so innocently have the collective power to knock you down to your knees, sting your eyes with tears and grip your chest so tightly around you swear you can no longer breathe.
Words are a tool. A tool, that when wielded by evil can persuade mild-mannered men to take up arms and head off into war. A person standing behind a podium can incite such passion that the crowd can forget themselves and believe the unbelievable, say the unthinkable and later perform the unconscionable.
Words have the beauty to inspire the heart to follow a dream. To take a risk with nothing more than the promise of a new day, a better way, or that it may provide something more — not for you, but for someone you love.
Words have power. Written into song, they burrow into your mind, shape your thoughts and push you through the obstacles of the day, the week, or perhaps longer. They are not your own, but you’ve adopted them as your personal credo. You don’t need to hear the music because you can conjure it to play in your head whenever the mood strikes.
Prose is a dance captured in rhythm and cadence. The words shuffle in step. The sentence provides the beat. The punctuation, however jiggy, is the flourish — the dip — that brushes a smile across your partner’s face. It stretches out to lull you into a calm that persuades you to pay attention to every detail. It bites. Keeps you alert. Wonder is just around the corner. But, in the end, it is a dance you have, the reader, with the author.
Words hurt. Our parents try to place a disclaimer on labels such as “stupid” and “ugly” because they have learned over the years just how they sting. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” is a lie we tell ourselves to save face in front of aggressors. They hurt in a way that never lets the body heal. Decades of sand can slip through the hourglass but never erase what was said, how it was said, with the inflection of one’s voice and the chatter, the laughter, the anger of strangers who surrounded you.
We have observed over the past several months people of this community using words irresponsibly. When words are wielded by the careless, the unexpected happens. An ally becomes an enemy, a loved one becomes estranged. In the cases we’ve watched over, people are getting hurt.
Oxford Languages provides a definition of stereotype that didn’t exist in our office’s 1969 edition of The American College Dictionary. It’s a testament of how words change over time based on how and when they are used. The modern version speaks more of social discourse than the process behind mechanical type. We often attribute this to racism, but pay attention to what it states: An “oversimplified image” of a person.
Since the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, this town has been turned upside down. We have people who are quick to call strangers racist before they take the moment to sit down and speak. We live in divisive times and there are people who are incapable of navigating the landmines that divide us. This practice of judging a man’s character based on trigger phrases within 500 words or less only broadens that divide.
As a community newspaper of more than 60 years, we are advocates of the First Amendment. We support and promote the use of our freedom of speech. But, people are too quick to call a stranger a racist without asking more questions. Calling them racist will ultimately see yourself surrounded by enemies when civil conversation and an open mind would have revealed more friends.
We understand the passion behind wanting Black Lives Matter posted at Magee Park. This community is more aware of that need then you may realize. Asking parents of young children to take up the mantle and open themselves to conflict is wrong. You can’t, nor do you have the right, to define and measure someone else’s sacrifice.
We go back to Election Night when individuals willingly decided to take up that very mantle and stood before a pickup truck at a busy Bethlehem intersection. What we observed on video was scary, but not as horrifying as the potential it promised through similar scenarios played out over national television. When we later reported on it, the victims involved asked us not to share their names. Though they had decided to take up the fight, in the end, they learned how vulnerable the safe lives they had cultivated had become.
Should Tri Village decide to back out of the fight, it’s their right to do so, but don’t oversimplify the image by calling them racists. Political discourse has no place on a playground no matter the merits behind the cause.