Have you ever enthusiastically endorsed an African American or Latina colleague's work and noted how articulate she is? She's quite impressive, she really is. You're surprised to learn that Maria, whom you hold in high regard, did not feel complimented but rather was a bit put off -- maybe even offended -- that you called her articulate.
You pride yourself on your wordsmithing abilities and consult your dictionary. Articulate is a perfectly good word. And now, you're offended that Maria is offended. Just when did the word articulate take on a negative connotation? Good Grief!
Time to take a deep breath and read Adam Smyer's Book, You Can Keep That to Yourself: A Comprehensive List of What Not to Say to Black People, for Well-Intentioned People of Pallor.
I laughed so hard reading the advance copy that it prompted my spouse to walk into the room:
“What’s so funny, I could use a good laugh too.”
Can't we all. So, here's a sneak preview of page one of this smart and humorous compendium.
PERSON OF PALLOR!
It's Daquan—the black coworker
you are referring to when you claim
to have black friends.
You are reading this book because
you want to know what not to say.
They get mad at you when you say
the wrong thing. But no one will
tell you, up front, what not to say.
Well, I will tell you. Because I am
your friend. Your real black friend.
I didn't laugh at every entry in the book and even squirmed at several, recalling when I've used these words. And one or two caused me to say, "ah, come on Adam, I have to stop saying that?"
Decolonizing our minds requires us to have honest heart to heart talks in mixed company about words and expressions that cause us to bristle, even if People of Pallor don't notice.
Here's a sampling of Daquan's list of words and phrases he's telling you to keep to yourself: Ally. Grandfathered. I Don't See Color. I Don't Care if You're Purple. Reverse Racism. Zepplin.
But why you ask? Come find out during what's sure to be a lively conversation with Adam Smyer on Wednesday, September 2nd at 4:30 (Pacific Time).
Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn sponsors this event, and I'm so excited to be part of Adam's virtual book tour. Register here to receive the zoom link.
Adams's web site has an entertaining three-minute PSA on the home page, check it out. And that's where you'll find the links to order the book from Akashic Books, the publisher, and other sources. It is set to be released on September 1st.
A few words about Adam Smyer's first book, Knucklehead which I read a couple of years ago and have gifted it to numerous friends. I highly recommend you read it. The protagonist Marcus Hayes is a young African American lawyer working in a blue-chip San Francisco law firm.
Did I mention that Adam is also a lawyer?
Marcus is sarcastic and hilarious. His keen eye and expertly honed BS meter are enormously entertaining. And his anger is palpable and frightening. Oops. Angry is on the You Can Keep It To Yourself list, so let me rephrase that. Marcus is mad as hell. With good reason. The novel is set in NYC and the Bay Area and takes place over a decade-plus (with some flashbacks). These touchstone events ground us: the beating of Rodney King and the acquittal of the white LAPD officers, the trial of OJ Simpson and television crews at Howard University taking the pulse of students as the world awaits the jury verdict. Other major events are the Oklahoma City Bombing and The Million Man March in Washington.
Although I read the book two years ago, I listened to Knucklehead on audible this past week, and the pain and rage of the protagonist is harder to bear today. Police brutality and other forms of violence that stem from anti-blackness and the hatred stoked against Latinx immigrants (and those of us perceived as immigrants from shit-hole countries) are front and center in the news each day.
Who can look away from the immigrant children in cages, the grieving families of the 46 people gunned down (23 killed) on a Saturday morning buying groceries and back to school supplies at a Walmart in El Paso? The weekly news stories of police shootings (some before our very eyes) of black men and women, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and now Jacob Blake. The list of names feels endless. Sometimes my heart hurts so much; I fear it might explode.
Words and language create our reality, and what comes out of our mouth matters. It really does.
Adam and I have lots to talk about on Wednesday, September 2nd, check your time zone so you can calendar it appropriately. Money-back guarantee you'll be glad you joined.
Register here to get your zoom link.