If Speaking Up Feels Awkward, You’re Doing It Right
We have to unlearn the habit of staying silent about racism
It started out as a choice between two words: “murder” and “death.”
As thousands marched across the country to protest the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, I had been wondering how to be a better anti-racist ally, and a more supportive ally to black people. But when an opportunity to do so arose during my work as a journalist, I wasn’t prepared for how awkward it would feel.
In an article that I submitted to my editor last week, I used the word “murder” to describe the way George Floyd was killed. But when my draft was published, I saw that “murder” had been changed to “death”: “The death of a black man named George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis has sparked outrage and protests…”
I didn’t know what to think. Or, at first, what to do.
Asking why the change was made would be, undoubtedly, awkward. This was an editor I liked and respected. I worried about suggesting that I was questioning their judgement, potentially damaging a relationship I valued. I didn’t want to make a colleague I admired feel bad. And it would be a hassle: It would take time on an already busy day to explain my concerns in a Slack message, and then engage in the conversation.
There was an easy, and tempting, way to avoid all those horrible feelings: Simply stay silent. Most readers would probably just brush over the words without noticing. And the edited version wasn’t incorrect: George Floyd did die.
But I also knew that understanding his death to be a murder, and not just a death, was the crux of the debate dividing the nation. I wanted to be on the right side of it.
So I sought the advice of people who know better. I asked the members of our company Slack channel dedicated to people of color. That was awkward too — I was afraid of coming across as an Asian American person trying to spotlight their own attempt at wokeness.
Everyone encouraged me to speak up. One black colleague told me that “words hold different weight for different people.” Another told me that the difference between those words was an…