In today’s society, there is a growing need for more inclusive and equitable communication.
That’s why, as a digital communications manager with a background in community organizing, I can’t stress enough the importance of using the right language when communicating about racial equity and social justice.
Whenever you turn on the news or when most people are talking to each other about what’s going on in their communities, it’s easy to get caught up in the problems and challenges that plague our cities and neighborhoods.
However, there is an increasingly popular approach to addressing these challenges that is helping to create stronger and more vibrant connections across the country. And I think it’s time to see more websites, social media posts, news stories, and other types of content using this approach.
By doing so, we can shift the narrative from one that views historically excluded communities as liabilities to one that recognizes the inherent value and contributions of every individual.
Let me give you a quick example.
If you’ve ever talked to a personal finance guru, there’s one lesson they’re going to teach you more than anything: It’s better to have assets over liabilities.
The same holds true for storytelling.
Assets create positive things in our lives, while liabilities create negative things.
So why is it that when we talk about advancing racial equity and social justice, we often use language that focuses on the deficiencies of people of color and other underrepresented communities?
It’s time to change that and adopt an asset-based approach to communicating about racial equity and social justice.
So where does this radical idea come from?
Asset-based community development is a term that was coined by John McKnight and John Kretzmann.
It emphasizes taking stock of existing resources and identifying opportunities for growth and development. The concept of asset-based language is rooted in this approach to community development.
Asset-based language centers around recognizing the value of people, their gifts and talents, and their potential. It draws attention away from “deficiencies” or “problems” and instead highlights the strengths of the individuals, communities, and organizations working for social justice.
Let’s take poverty as an example.
When we talk about “low-income people,” why do we only focus on their needs and deficiencies? It’s because our traditional approach to solving problems with poor communities is focused on thinking that their poverty is central to who they are, and that is all they are.
This type of thinking is harmful.
It perpetuates the idea that communities that include a lot of people of color and other underrepresented groups are problems that need to be fixed. It makes it easy to view them with charity or pity and throw up our hands because “there’s nothing we can do.”
By viewing a certain group of people as liabilities, we start to project our own distorted views on them.
Instead, what if we approached poverty with the understanding that everyone has gifts, everyone has something to contribute, and everyone is passionate about something?
What if our solutions to poverty came from a place of recognizing the inherent value and worth of every individual, regardless of their socioeconomic status?
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