Kenneth L. Hardin: Understanding the power of words

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 28, 2022

It’s true actions prove who you are, but words prove who you pretend to be.  People throw words around on social media all willy-nilly without regard for their impact. Comedian and political commentator Bill Maher opined that society takes words, twists them, inflates their meaning, and then tries to redefine them to suit their agendas. Nowadays, people have so much keyboard courage while typing in the safety and comfort of their den. They forget what former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson said, “Social media has made y’all way too comfortable disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it.”  I feel you Iron Mike.

I focus on the meaning and intention of words rather than allowing myself to get caught up in how they make me feel. With this superhero-like discernible ability, just call me the Black Panther of the verbal and written worlds. When people start off a sentence with “I hope this doesn’t offend you” or “With all due respect,” they’re probably trying to purposely rub you the wrong way. I don’t get offended by what people say to or about me because I’ve been described as the villain, boogeyman, and the hero in a lot of people’s lives. Since I didn’t draft their story, I don’t try to influence the direction of it. My ego, value and self-worth are not tied to people’s perceptions of me. I love words, and I use them effectively.  I can caress and cut you at the same time with my elocution.

I heard three words strung together so simply and eloquently recently about Black voting that accurately captured my growing frustration with this civic responsibility. It aroused my consciousness so deeply it made me question for a second whether voting was still relevant to our progression. On a nationally syndicated radio show, Dr. Claud Anderson, who is a bestselling author, educator, political strategist, and social activist, introduced me to the term “Intellectual Masturbation Process.”  He used it in the context of whether voting yields anything beyond temporary mental self-pleasure for people of color. Wow. He went on to wax poetic comparing it to having no better effect than if you were starving and someone gave you a steak, but only rubbed it on the outside of your stomach. The good doctor said instead of putting all our hopes in the electoral process, we should focus on wealth building. I feel you Doc, but au contraire mon frère, we can and should do both.

I took some time to marinate on his words, first allowing them to flow throughout the deepest cognitive recesses of my mind.  When I felt intellectually satiated to the point I could regain control and move from emotion back to logic, I  applied it to the progress of Black people in this slice of marginal Heaven where I get my mail every day. I have frequent tête-à-têtes with myself and sometimes I don’t agree with what one part of my cerebrum is saying to me. I asked myself the question that if you look at the condition of our crime ridden and gun violent city, what are we doing wrong or not doing at all in selecting our local representatives?

We have people who’ve occupied the same high back chairs for multiple years, yet the individual and collective condition of this city hasn’t changed or improved. It seems like all we do is take and fail a modified SAT test every two years. Our low voting score is reflected in the extreme level of continual gun violence, drug overdoses, suicides, and apathy amongst the people. When someone tells me they don’t vote, they get upset with the words I hurl back at them. I lay blame at their feet telling them they’re complicit in the continued degradation of this city. The Black community needs better community leadership.  We’re starving for people who will make voting a priority instead of trying to make history, getting recognition  trinkets or carrying the city’s water while ignoring the needs and plight of their community.

I was amused with all the pointless PR efforts and unconvincing words the city and school system used after the shooting/non-shooting at the Salisbury-West football game. Their words were hilariously sad. I wish the city and school system would put as much effort and energy into stopping the actual continual gun violence and improving the dismal test scores as they did in a laughable media campaign to try to persuade people it was a fictional occurrence. The verbal excrement that was shoveled over several days afterwards in broadcast and print media is contradicted by the truth residents see and hear every night.

  I recognize the power of words.  I’m  just weary of having to smash gnats with sledgehammers for those unable to comprehend.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.