The African-American community has deemed barbershops and beauty shops to be a haven for people of color to convene and have uninhibited dialogue about life, world affairs, love and social issues. But rarely is verbal violence a topic of conversation. In fact, it’s encouraged.
For decades, the spectator sport of “joning” has been a staple in Black culture. Joning is when two people exchange verbal insults about one another until one person renounces, leaving his or her opponent to gloat in victory. This “game” almost always requires eager watchers, who are responsible for increasing the hostility between opponents. Theorists say the practice was birthed by a group of marginalized people who had no way to express their frustrations with their oppressors. In return, they directed their anger and resentment inward.
It is also believed that “joning” serves as means to prepare Black people for the real world, especially Black men. The ability to endure verbal thrashings and remain silent and composed is a survival tactic Black men are forced to learn in order to sustain in a society of hate and depravity. Words got my childhood friend who was murdered the summer before he was set to begin high school. He was “joning” and got the best of a young woman. Her rage haunted her and ultimately drove her to murder.
We commit acts of verbal violence against one another daily. It is the practice of using words that threaten, incite gossip, seek to overpower, name call, chastise, victimize, shame, bully, and/or place undeserving fault or shame on another person. The use of unloving and unsafe language in the Black community is an intracultural crime and because it has no immediate consequences, we continuously commit this heinous act of violence against one another. There is very little regard for the long-term damage it inflicts.
Verbal violence begins in our homes and is visible in every sector of our community. Here are 3 ways how it is ruining our bonds.
1) “Joning” promotes a culture of self-hate.
“Witcho nappy head self.” “Your nose is spread across your face.” “Stop talking so ghetto.”
Being in a land that is not our own has trained us to be disgusted by the very features and attributes that make us who we are. If you do not believe me, Malcolm X’s “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself” has a number of examples.
Our words have power. Every time we open our mouths, we are either promoting life or speaking death into someone’s spirit. When an individual has been conditioned to hate themselves, they unknowingly push forward the agenda of their oppressor, which is to spread messages of shame and self-doubt. The less superior and inadequate we feel as a collective, the less likely we are to rise and revolt against the systems that persecute us so unfairly.
2) It allows for classicism to plant itself in our community.
“That Uncle Tom negro.” “She’s a sellout.” “I’m not like other Black people.”
Whether we acknowledge it or not, for some Black folk the desire to disassociate themselves from the stereotypes people have about our people is so strong to the point where they begin to mimic aspects of European culture. The primary goal of people like this is to be accepted by their White counterparts by any means.
On the other hand, there are some Black people who use the accumulation of wealth, accolades and academic success as a means to break cycles of economic hardship and struggle, yet are often ridiculed and/or mocked for being an “Uncle Tom.” It could be suggested that such a division is the result of one portion of the community being stuck in cycles of poverty, while the other is thriving economically. I would argue that the real issue is our inability to recognize how the gap between lower and middle-class African-Americans and the language we use is what truly widens that divide between classes.
3) Colorism, colorism, colorism…
“You’re pretty for a Black girl.” “Stay out of the sun before you get blacker.” “If you’re light, you’re alright.”
One of the most verbally violent offenses we commit in our community is shaming our brothers and sisters based on the color of their skin. Internalized racism is cruel and venomous. This form of self-hatred is deep-rooted and it robs us of any pride we may experience when learning to love ourselves. We must agree to discontinue behaviors that encourage colorism.
Here is the fact. Words cut deep and teaching children that, “sticks and stones may break bones, but words will never hurt me” is a deceptive practice. By introducing “joning” to a community of tormented and mistreated people without issuing boundaries, we are linguistically desensitizing ourselves to the reality of just how dangerous words can be.
At the height of what appears to be the start of a new civil rights movement, unity is essential. There is no better time than now to undo the unkind and emotionally destructive ways we speak to each other, so that we can support one another in our war against the violent crimes being committed against us by those who lie outside of our community.