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Why do words matter? A conversation with communities of color about the importance of words

Posted at 6:48 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 22:06:28-04

ABC15 has been reporting on the importance of words and how discrimination can occur against communities of color when using certain words.

As a way to be a more inclusive community, we have created a space to start a conversation about the impact certain words can have in someone's life. We invited members of our Asian, Latino, Black, and LGBTQ communities to this conversation.

“Words matter to me because they are the main way of communication. It matters how you talk to yourself, so I think if it’s something that you’re going to say to someone else that you wouldn’t say to yourself, then there’s no need to say it,” stated Franky Pagel.

Pagel is the president of the Black Student Union Club at Corona del Sol High School. They say words carry power and people using those hurtful words usually know there’s nothing legally put in place to stop them.

“As an immigrant woman, as a queer woman, I feel that there’s a lot of power in me coming into a space saying those things. But there’s also a lot of power if people were to degrade me with words,” expressed Pita Juarez, a filmmaker and activist in Phoenix.

Juarez and Pagel both share a relationship with words in their own communities.

“The big word that sticks out for everyone is the “n” word because that is historically used against black people to put them down into a demeanor of who they are as human beings.

They say that even dictionaries use words against the African American community.

“Black isn’t a bad word, but in the dictionary, it is literally dirty or bad, but white is pure and good.”

Meanwhile, Juarez says no one should carry words because at the end of the day “we’re all humans.”

“There’s an insane number of homophobic slurs that I won’t repeat and then there’s also the term illegal that we saw for a really long time that just completely dehumanizes people. Words carry power and they make you feel a certain type of way when you’re stereotyped by a word just because of the color of your skin or because you’re Muslim or you’re gay or you’re black or whatever it is.”

Words can have a huge impact in the lives of many people. According to APIA vote Michigan, after former President Donald Trump described COVID-19 with xenophobic language against Asian Americans, violence and verbal harassment against Asian communities increased.

“The comments have been a lot of ‘why don’t you go back to China and take the flu with you,’” said Richard Mui, president of APIA vote Michigan.

Mui says words matter and it really has an impact on people's beliefs and their actions.

“We have our voice out, we want the society to listen to us when there’s injustice happening in our society, we want people to listen to us, give us fair respect. We're Americans, when someone says to us go back to your country, this is our country, this is our home,” expressed Jing Kwoh.

Others like Lucinda Hinojos, a muralist and activist in Phoenix, believe we must change as a society understanding that change is difficult, but it’s possible.

“Once we use these negative words, if somebody believes it, they can do damage.”

In 2019, 23 people were killed at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, the man accused wrote a manifesto with anti-immigrant words.

“There’s been a long association of immigrants as criminals as people with characteristics so they can’t be trusted that they can’t possibly become Americans or what we considered to be with American ideals and this includes Chinese immigrants, German immigrants basically everybody else,” stated Eileen Diaz McConnell, professor at The School of Transborder Studies at ASU.

Hinojos says we can shift and change that by changing the words that we use.

“By no longer using words that dehumanize us and make us feel less. We may not realize it, but words that we should be using are love, hope, faith, peace.”

For Pagel, it is about thinking about the world we want to create for our children.

“If you’re constantly saying demeaning words or hurtful words, you’re going to create a hurtful and demeaning place in society.”

“Us, as people we’re evolving, and words should also evolve with that. That’s why words matter,” said Juarez.

If you have any suggestion on other stories you would like to see about words that matter email