Let’s Stop Using Charged Language

I have whiplash.

I am on a mission to seek out and hear both sides of the polarizing arguments plaguing our country right now.  There are no easy or right answers.  We need to better understand others’ perspectives through open and honest dialogue. But now I feel like I’m on a roller coaster with my head being tossed violently between the safety bars. The whiplash, I’m discovering, is in the intensity of words and arguments.

Over the last two weeks, I have thrown away my reluctance to talk about the issues in our country today with racism and support the #blacklivesmatter movement. I have done this at, perhaps, the cost of alienating dear family members who are part of the law enforcement community. That bothers me.

While I support #blacklivesmatter I also support anyone who makes it his or her life’s work to protect and defend, as do our first responders and our military. And there’s the rub: there are no easy or right answers. So at the risk of offending someone, I stayed silent.  I can’t do that anymore.

After spending the last few years reading everything I can from both sides, I believe that there are systemic issues in our country that limit the opportunities of people of color and cause them to be treated more cynically and suspiciously.

I have seen it personally after 40 years in the workforce. I don’t want to watch silently.  I want to start a good, respectful dialogue. I recently wrote about my experience in 1994, and the enlightenment that came from hearing a black IBM executive describe giving “the talk” to his son.  I am just now tiptoeing into our current political situation because it is difficult to separate politics from the issue of bias.

My long-held value of respect for our nation and our President is slipping away. Someone asked me recently, “Do you support the President,” and without batting an eye, I said, “No.” In reflection, that’s not how I should have answered.  I do support the office of the President of the United States.  Absolutely.  I also believe…maybe hope is a better word…that all citizens of this country understand that concept. Our President has been entrusted to protect and defend the constitution of the United States and will make decisions that benefit some and don’t benefit others but are made for the good of the country. If he or she does that with the greater good in mind, it is our civic responsibility to support. That doesn’t mean we agree. We don’t have to. That’s called freedom.

I do not support the individual who currently holds this office is what I should have said.  I am a business person so I get his rigid focus on the economy. I see the problems that porous borders have enabled.  If nothing else COVID-19 has demonstrated how fragile our economy is. But COVID-19 has also demonstrated the need for articulate, caring, and credible leadership and I don’t see that in our current President. Now we are rocked by a new wave of evidence that our black population, who we’ve tried to legislate into equality, is not equal in many instances.

Back to my whiplash.

It feels as if we are at a tipping point in support for #blacklivesmatter after the death of George Floyd.  I have been swayed to think about the obstacles that people of color have within our culture that I, as a white person, don’t have.  That troubles me. At the same time, there is a vocal segment that supports the current administration and speaks with eloquence about “the other side.”

Let the whiplash begin

Candace Owens is an articulate, credible black conservative commentator and activist who has shared her distaste for creating a martyr out of George Floyd on Facebook. If you haven’t yet, watch her video. She came to my attention in an email for a very conservative friend who basically said, “Listen to this black woman support my position” (I’m paraphrasing).

Ms. Owens speaks articulately about George Floyd’s criminal past as well as his being high on methamphetamines at the time of the arrest.  She goes on to say, “I refuse to accept that this is the best the black society has to offer or pretend that he lived a heroic lifestyle”. Hard to argue. Her iteration of his prior offenses is hard to hear. I agree that he shouldn’t be raised up as a martyr.  And it is unfortunate that the black community feels that they need to make him a martyr.

But his record is not what concerns me.  What concerns me is that a police officer who had 18 prior internal investigations knelt on the neck of a man for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, ignoring pleas to be able to breathe while three others did not intervene, and the man died.  It also concerns me that it took four days to make an arrest.

The volume of Ms. Owens’ presentation and the data on white and black arrests are loud and I find myself getting pulled in.  She goes on to say that this issue of whites and blacks only happens in election years and this movement is an election ploy. She’s trying to convince me that she’s right and I start to question myself. Whiplash sets in because of the vehemence of her words.   But nothing changes the part of the narrative that concerns me.  That it appears that a police officer used brute force and killed a man and that it appears that this wasn’t taken seriously by the chain of command until media attention forced the issue.

Pump up the volume and the charged words

I received a link to a Tucker Carlson video. In the first 26 seconds of the video, he made the statement that George Floyd’s death has “led to demands that we fire the nearly 700,000 police officers who work in the United States and free the million and a half criminals now behind bars.” Really?  I haven’t heard that. He goes on to quote Senator Corey Booker as saying, “There are so many people – African American men – unarmed – being murdered and no way to hold people accountable.” Then he quotes The Floyd family lawyer, Ben Crump, as saying, “What we are experiencing here in America is genocide.” In October 2019, Crump, who served as Trayvon Martin’s family’s lawyer wrote and published, “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.

Carlson goes on to provide the stories of the 10 unarmed African American individuals (9 men, 1 woman) who were fatally shot by police officers in 2019, including the outcome of the investigation into the police behavior.  Some were charged, others were not. For the most part, they didn’t appear to be upstanding citizens. In contrast, he points out that in 2019, 48 police officers were murdered; more than all of the unarmed shootings. Carlson finished by quoting Joy Reid from MSNBC who said, “As black people, we feel hunted. That is not the way we are supposed to feel in our own country.  Just stop killing us, this is not a huge demand’.

His conclusion – there is no systemic bias against African Americans.

Systemic bias

I said earlier in this essay that after spending the last few years reading everything I can from both sides, I believe that there are systemic issues in our country that limit the opportunities of people of color and cause them to be treated more cynically and suspiciously.

Now I have an incredibly articulate black woman and an argumentative conservative commentator telling me that isn’t so.  And they have data to prove it.

Corey Booker, Ben Crump, and Joy Reid emotionally and hyperbolically saying there is systemic bias. Knowing how easily data can be fashioned to say what we want it to say I suspect they have data too.

Who can shout loudest?

Candace Owens claimed that all this was festering simply because it’s an election year. Tucker Carlson said there’s been a demand to fire all police officers and let all criminals out of jail. Corey Booker says there are way too many unarmed African Americans being murdered perhaps inferring that unarmed means squeaky clean. Ben Crump says it’s “open season” on killing blacks. Joy Reid says blacks are being hunted.

This is charged language, defined as “language that contains implications beyond the meanings of words that is often used to persuade or convey a specific way of thinking.” Charged words have a shock value that is intended to sway.  Or in my metaphor, swipe your head back and forth between the safety bars on the roller coaster.

The media has a Ph.D. in charged words and we fall right into the trap.  But the whiplash is painful, so we stick with what we know and trust.

We talk in generalities because they have shock value.  We don’t read beyond the headlines, particularly when they serve the purpose of reinforcing our own beliefs.

There is a better way

We can say “no” to hyperbole and charged language and use our common sense to discern the details that are important and ignore the hyperbole. It starts with two actions: Reading below the headlines and reading stuff from “the other side.” Perhaps we could find enough common ground to actually have an intelligent conversation.

And then we need to talk.

I don’t want Tucker Carlson, Candace Owens, Corey Booker, Joy Reid, Ben Crump, or anyone else telling me what to think.  I can think for myself.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. First, I should say I disagree strongly with many of your conclusions. While black lives matter, of course, all lives matter.

    At the same time, I appreciate your piece. You are quite correct that “the media has a Ph.D. in charged words and we fall right into the trap. But the whiplash is painful, so we stick with what we know and trust.” I believe that is actually the first realization people need to understand. Realize that media is seeking to manipulate you, either because they have an agenda or because they want more eyeballs/clicks.

    Use of inflammatory words is used to bypass the logical/reasoning portion of the brain and appeal directly to the emotional portion. Sometimes what we call inflammatory, though, is choice of real words others don’t like or disagree with.

    I’ve spent most of my life seeking out those who disagree with me. I love to talk to others with different opinions and view points.

    In the current situation, however, I wan initially told by “them” that “White people need to be quiet and listen to black people. You can’t know what it’s like to be black.” That was the initial call after GF. So, the “other side” decided that I deserve no voice and only people who can speak are chosen based on the color of their skin.

    It goes on from there, but my point is, as far as I have been able to determine, there is no one to speak with on the “other side.”

    We can’t even agree on words. As I wrote on here, racist/racism, which we basically all decided was bad, has been redefined to mean, as my son was taught in public schools, that you’re white. He was taught that he was racist because he’s white and blacks can’t be racist.

    I’m rambling a bit now, I know.

    But let me leave off with a question. With what I’ve said above, how can there even be a discussion?

    • I think that the key is to start with questions rather than statements. Certainly the media is manipulating – they always have well before the internet. (Read 1928 book Propaganda by Edward Bernays.) But if we start with questions, we willingly relinquish our own platform with a willingness to hear others’. By arguing, disagreeing and hyperbole, we never have the opportunity to generate the trust that will allow for a genuine conversation.

    • How does that respond to or clarify on what I said? Or is your proposition that conversations are possible if you start with questions? And implicit in your statement is that you actually want to hear answers.

      My point remains that “as far as I have been able to determine, there is no one to speak with on the “other side.””

      Or more precisely, they are so few and far between…or maybe they’re silent so even knowing to converse is a challenge.

      Sure, there are some experts in communication…or maybe those naturally skilled. Or maybe I’m simply unskilled.

      Regardless, what I encounter are massive amounts of people who’s reasoning have been turned off through…fear.

    • I head you, Michael. It’s a tough nut to crack. But yes, I have found that asking questions with a tone that says “I really want to hear you” and then continuing to ask questions that provoke thought is the only way to initiate the dialogue. That said, lots of folks resist questions as they are dug in. I don’t know any way around that other than to keep trying.

  2. Carol: I think the best we can do is to look at who is presenting a position or data and determine what their motive is. What is their private or personal agenda? Who is paying them to say what they say and what are their motives? Who collected the date and how was it done? If it is an opinion poll I immediately trash it. Polls are always manipulated and designed to prove a pre-determined point.

    In considering the recent riots and what they tell us the old adage of “follow the money” is important. Who financed the riots. Who paid the people that came from other areas or states. Many of the young that we saw burning and looting didn’t have the financial capacity to get there and sustain themselves without help.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ken. I agree with you about trusting any data thrown out. What I am learning, as I try to intentionally view different media perspectives, is that selective use of data is often the culprit. The WAPO study on police fatalities was quoted by a media outlet, but only a selected portion of the entire study was used, and it was misleading.

      I’ve been on a bit of a personal introspection these days. I have shifted some perspectives and confirmed others. Writing about it is the only way to unjuggle my brain.

      The only conclusion I can arrive at is, “there’s always another side to the story.”

    • I thought about this all night. I have framed dozens of responses from snarky to asking you why you feel as you do.

      I think my best option is to simply say, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • I agree with you, Joel. I don’t always like the way President Trump handles things, but more often than not he gets results and that is more than most of our current government leaders can say. While I agree that black lives matter, I find it very racist to use it as a slogan. All lives matter. Certainly, the BLM organization has been taken over (perhaps even created) by radical violence supporting parties.

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