We all need to pay more attention to how powerful our words are. They vibrate our thoughts and feelings into real life and even a slight change in spelling, phrasing, or pronunciation can make a world of difference if we’re not careful.
Good Morning America host Amy Robach learned that lesson Monday after using the term “colored people” on air.
Ironically, Robach dropped the “CP” bomb without a second thought during a segment about the racist backlash regarding the decision to cast Zendaya as Mary Jane in the upcoming Spider-Man film.
Commenters on social media wasted no time informing Robach that “people of color” is the preferred term, and Robach apologized just as quickly, appearing to have learned her lesson.
But there’s another lesson everyone has to learn about words: Once we speak them into the world, we can’t ever really take them back.
There’s no way to know what exactly made Robach comfortable using segregation terminology in the era of Black Lives Matter.
Was it just a Freudian slip, or is that how she regularly speaks in the privacy of her home?
A few caped commenters tried to write Robach’s words off as “not a big deal,” but they couldn’t be more wrong.
The difference between “people of color” and “colored people” may seem trivial on the surface, but their true meanings go much deeper.
Just as the folks who refer to individuals with autism as “autistic” must consider how that label can marginalize, Robach and others like her — all of us, in fact — have to recognize the way in which simple grammar can change the meaning of a word, and over decades of use, seep that deeper meaning into our psyche.
We can blame the economy of words and claim to be saving time by using terms like autistic and colored, but in doing so, we limit the humanity of entire populations. Some people have a condition known as autism, which gives them unique gifts and difficulties. Others have melanin, which gives their skin a visible shade of color. But terms like “colored people” make the subjects’ melanin appear to be a burden, while implying that regular people don’t have color.
Recognizing these subtle cues that words give us all is what woke up convict Malcolm Little and gave the world Malcolm X.
By looking up the different connotations of the words Black and White in the English dictionary, Malcolm recognized the deep roots White supremacy had planted in everyone’s subconscious through the power of words.
Just as Webster tried to convince us that White was good and Black was evil, Robach’s comment implies that some people are normal, and others are “other.”
New York mayor Bill de Blasio learned the same lesson when he jokingly apologized to Hillary Clinton for his delayed endorsement by claiming he was “running on CP time.”
Yeah, we’re never gonna forget that one, Bill. Much love to the wife and kids, though.
Like de Blasio, Robach failed by playing along with a system that constantly reminds people of color that they are not seen as normal in the eyes of mainstream society.
It’s the same system that was trying to tell Zendaya she couldn’t be Peter Parker’s love interest because of the color of her skin and hair.
If Robach knew the true power of her words, her report on a story about racism wouldn’t have become a story about her own racist predispositions.
It’s a safe bet that Robach will do a better job managing the responsibility that comes with broadcasting her words into the world from now on.
But if not, I’ve got about 600 more in the chamber for the next time she thinks she can take one word for granted.
VIDEO SOURCE: Twitter | PHOTO CREDIT: Splash, Twitter