Why Words Matter

Gina Economou and Earl Robinson competing at Flintridge. Photo courtesy of Earl Robinson.

Some thirty years ago, I became aware of the awesome sport of eventing. I’d always loved horses. Found out that I got that love from my mother. Seems she’d own one or two horses of her own while growing up in Mississippi. I started following the sport more than watching any of the other sports that I’d grown up on.

My buddies teased me because I’d excitedly talk about Theodore, Karen and David O’Connor, Poggio II, Calidore, Dakota or Oliver Townend. Galway Downs, Rebecca Farms, or Shepherd Ranch. None of those are the names of well-known baseball, basketball, or football athletes or stadiums.

While following those names, one always seemed to sting a little whenever I read it. The Plantation Field Horse Trials.

See … I’m an older Black man and the word “Plantation” has more significant meaning to me than it might to a white person. Whenever I see the word plantation, I think of the place where my mother was born in Mississippi with only a midwife for help. They didn’t even record her birth until she was in her 30s. This was same plantation where her grandparents were enslaved. Where they picked cotton all day in a field. My father helped picking cotton in those fields. I even have a memory of being a little boy, with my little burlap sack walking behind my dad along a row of cotton plants, crying because I couldn’t pull the balls of white fiber from the hard-shell casings.

I understand that there are many who want to hang on to the old ways. But in my experience, when people won’t welcome feedback about the language they use that impacts people of color, I can rest assure they wouldn’t welcome me either.

Earl Robinson competing at Shepherd Ranch H.T. Photo by Aaron Sonego.

Please read EN’s 2018 profile of Malcolm “Earl” Robinson here

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