Arts & Culture: “For the Semanticists” – The Feminist Wire

Arts & Culture: “For the Semanticists”

By Jeanann Verlee


a specialist in the study of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning.

white priv·i·lege


1. making a semantic suggestion on an article or post written with the sole purpose of criticizing the act of white people debating semantics while black people die,

supreme authority, status or power.

2. [slippery] racism: microaggressions, “just jokes,” white guilt, or white saviorism,



the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.

3. gaslighting with pop media catchphrases instead of doing the work of researching factual data and/or actually listening to the lived experience of black people,

a person who uses violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aims.

4. derailing conversations about racism with semantic nitpickery, [flawed] statistics, black-on-black arguments, if-they-just-didn’t-resist arguments, but-what-about-me arguments, or—tears,


of or relating to the government or the public affairs of a country.

5. debating the use of “shooting” over “massacre” while black people are being massacred,


a deliberate and violent slaughter of a large number of people.

6. arguing the use of “loner” over “terrorist” while black people are being terrorized,

a person who prefers not to associate with others.

7. talking circles around how to talk (be kind, no need for attitude, calm down, that hurt my feelings, you’ll catch more flies with honey, stop yelling, I won’t get behind your cause if you attack me, don’t attack me, I’m being attacked here, I’ll unfriend you, I’ll block you, I’m done, I’m out, how rude) instead of [shh] actively listening,

having a pleasing quality involving a subtle effect rather than sharp definition.

8. pondering the “motive” of a “soft-spoken” “loner” who made a few “jokes” while black people were, in fact, massacred by a domestic terrorist,

a reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious.

9. minimizing the actions of terrorists mired in the ideology of white supremacy who espouse racist hate and exact such hatred in murder,

the action or practice of shooting, as with a gun.

10. defending the actions of state-sanctioned terrorists mired in the ideology of white supremacy who espouse racist hate and exact such hatred in extrajudicial killings (aka, murder),



occurring in cycles; recurrent.

11. fretting verbal nuances and not being killed while we pray or while we play in a park or while we seek help for an auto accident or while we walk home from the corner store or while we sell cigarettes or while we reach for our ID or while we play music or while we wait for trains or while we forget to use a turn signal or while we turn our back or while we jaywalk or while we shop at Walmart or while we have our hands up or while we sell CDs or while we are illegally pulled over for a broken tail light that was never broken or while we do nothing—nothing—at all,

activist movement intended to campaign against violence toward black people.

12. committing psychological abuse by demanding (see: supremacy) calm, peace, or silence in response to genocide,

semantic retaliation effort intended to undermine/derail the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

13. squabbling over nouns and verbs while Black people are dying and trying not to die and playing dead so they don’t die and videoing themselves so that if they do die the truth won’t die with them,

racial prejudice plus power on the structural, institutional, and cultural level.

14. fear Black fear Brown fear race fear “racist” fear “bigot” fear call-out fear introspection fear listen fear conversation fear honest fear mistake fear fail fear    guilt fear equal fear lost privilege (see: cyclical) fear   lost power (see: cyclical) fear cyclical fear shift fear change fear tectonics fear black lives mattering as   much as ours fear self fear all people mattering equal to self fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fearfearfearfearfear…



Jeanann_Verlee-Verlee_3_credit_A._Pavhk_10.2014Jeanann Verlee is author of Said the Manic to the Muse and award-winning Racing Hummingbirds. She has earned the Third Coast Poetry Prize and the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry, and her work appears in failbetter, Adroit, Feministing, and BuzzFeed Reader, among others. She has worked as poetry editor for Union Station Magazine, For Some Time Now, and Winter Tangerine Review: Fragments of Persephone. Verlee is a curator, coach, and veteran of poetry slam who has performed and facilitated workshops at schools, theatres, libraries, bookstores, and dive bars across North America. She wears polka dots and kisses Rottweilers. She believes in you. Find her at