Words Matter
May 28, 2021  |  Lisa Pryor


This March, I had the opportunity to present a workshop to our amazing 4th graders. We discussed the power words have, for good and bad. On Wednesday morning, I entered my office to find notes from many of them, thanking me for my time and the conversation. This small act of gratitude was inspiring and reaffirmed what we already know: this--the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and love--is important, necessary, and worthwhile.

Because I do not watch the news, I get my information a little delayed. When I began to hear chatter about an incident that happened in Atlanta, I realized that I needed to tune in. After a simple Google search, I was overwhelmed by several headlines that read “8 People Killed in Atlanta Area Massage Parlor Shooting.” This fact is troubling enough, but then I started to notice a pattern… the language used to share this news was quite biased.

Let’s rewind to March and April of 2020. The novel coronavirus was essentially dismissed by many individuals as something that will not do much to the American people. After COVID-19 started to put hundreds and thousands of people in the hospital and killing folx, it was referred to as the Chinese Virus and Kung Flu. This is not a political piece: this is about the power of words. After the coronavirus started to be referred to by these names, incidents of racially motivated violence toward Asian and Asian-American individuals have reportedly risen by 150% in some cities, and nearly 3,800 reports about anti-Asian incidents have been reported in the last calendar year.

Let’s go back further. This is not new. In 1882, the first significant law restricting immigration into the United States was signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur. This law, The Chinese Exclusion Act, was intended to curb immigration because many Americans on the West Coast believed that the declining wages and economic troubles were due to Chinese workers. In 1894, the Supreme Court case People vs. Hall ruled that Chinese, like African Americans and Native Americans, were not allowed to testify in court. In 1924, the Immigration Act, which restricted “undesirable” groups from entering the United States including Japanese immigrants, was passed. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which created Japanese internment camps with the intention to prevent espionage on American shores. This Executive Order resulted in one of the most atrocious American civil rights violations in the 20th century. Unfortunately, the list doesn’t end here.

Back to the present day. Given our - American - history with Asian and Asian-Americans, it should be easy to understand how/why there are so many individuals who are rightfully upset and hurt by the tragic events that took place in Atlanta. This is another racial issue within our country. It is also a gender issue. Of those nearly 3,800 reported incidents, most of them were from women. Of the eight victims in the Atlanta massacre, seven were women, six of whom were Asian/Asian-American. The lives of Asian and Asian-American people are largely reduced to stereotypes by many. That seems to be the case for this person who murdered eight people, also.

The event itself was a tragedy and an act of terrorism; however, the language used when reporting on the suspect's actions doesn't reflect that. This was the comment made about the suspect’s actions that day: “He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.” Capt. Jay Baker

How would you feel if your child was assaulted by another student and the principal said, “Well, he had a bad day and this is how he handled it?” Would you not be furious?

Words matter. They have power.

How will you explain to your children that someone had a “bad day” and murdered 8 people? As an educator, I know that there is no logical explanation for something like this, just as there is no explanation for kneeling on someone’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

The headlines might never change, but we can. Let's be mindful of our language. This is a time to support Asian and Asian-American individuals. It is not a time to make excuses for the very poor behavior of one individual and then those who gave him the room to justify his racist and misogynistic actions. Try to understand the very real fear, frustration, anxiety, hurt, anger, and trauma that many people are experiencing. We can only be better together.

Orchard is a place where we want everyone to know they BELONG. We work to create an environment in which our students feel loved, supported, valued, cared for, and known. We create this space by sharing our studies and educating our community about the experiences of others. Now, more than ever, we must continue to build empathy. We need your help to do this for all groups in our community.

Please normalize the Asian/Asian-American experience outside of stereotypes. Here are some great resources for how you can do that:

Support Asian Communities in Indianapolis and greater Indiana 

Read → Book Lists

Our 6th graders are reading American Born Chinese, ask them what they have learned.

Speak out → Correct misleading and false language whenever you can.

Our words matter!


As Orchard’s Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Lisa will strive to create, for everyone in our community, the same sense of belonging, and being valued, that she created in her classrooms for more than 15 years.