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Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

In the wake of Buffalo shooting, semantics is more important than ever 

The+Tops+supermarket+%E2%80%93+the+location+of+the+shooting+%E2%80%93+as+of+February+2022.
Andre Carrotflower, via Wikimedia Commons
The Tops supermarket – the location of the shooting – as of February 2022.

On May 14, 2022, 10 Black people were shot and killed in a racially motivated attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., and several others were injured. This massacre was a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. 

News outlets all around the country paid tribute to the victims by detailing the highlights of their lives through accounts from the victims’ family members, friends and other community members. 

When it comes to media coverage of horrific events such as this shooting, the words reporters and the general public use to describe them impacts how these tragedies are viewed. 

For a long time, people have often countered opponents’ arguments by responding with, “It’s just semantics,” especially when their ideas are being picked apart due to their choice of words. Essentially, semantics is the branch of linguistics concerned with meaning. What many fail to grasp is how much power it yields.

Perhaps one can argue that semantics does not matter during informal, daily conversations, but it is irrefutable that the small differences within words, sentences, paragraphs and so forth change meaning, and that changes how people understand the situation at hand. 

An example is the difference between the Black Power movement and the term white power. Within the civil rights movement, Black Power has been a symbol of equality and prosperity for Black people in the United States. White power, on the other hand, is the concept of hatred, co-opted from Black Americans by white supremacists. 

In this case, there is a difference when reporters call this incident a shooting, a killing of 10 people or an attack  versus when they include the semantics that change the meaning of the narrative. Without including the word choice and structure that characterizes the political and social nuance of the situation, the significance of the event is almost completely stripped away. 

Words, terms and phrases such  as “white-power,” “white supremacy,” “domestic terrorism,” “political ideology,” “far right” and several more have been applied to the account of the shooting, which tell members of society – from people at home to those who wield power as politicians – that this massacre was not just any attack. 

The conversation extends past just reporting news about domestic terrorism and acts of violence against marginalized communities. It relates to members of the GOP who are afraid to say the term “white supremacy” – even in trying to denounce it from their own names – because they do not want to admit it’s overwhelming presence in the nation. It connects to the controversy of critical race theory in American classrooms, the ““Don’t Say Gay” bill; its expanse is endless. 

While people of the nation mourn the victims of this tragic event, it is more important than ever before to honor their lives by giving the story justice through the nuance it deserves. As long as words hold meaning, the words we use matter and remain a political force themselves. 

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Molly Rawat
Molly Rawat, Feature Editor
Molly Rawat is finishing up her senior year as the Feature Editor for the Spartan Shield. Throughout her high school experience she has been an athlete for the cross country team all four years, with three of those as a varsity runner. Other than her strong dedication to athletics, Molly’s favorite subject is humanities due to her interest in understanding human nature through literature, art and philosophy. In addition to her academic and athletic workload, Molly is involved in writing club, which helps students grow more confident in their writing with a different prompt each meeting, and film club, which discusses various movies and music albums each week. She has grown fond of the author James Baldwin, as well as the director Shunji Iwai. Some of her favorite reads include Norwegian Wood, Dune and Native Son, along with her favorite movie being City of God. Other than immersing herself with books and films, Molly enjoys spending time driving around with friends, listening to music and podcasts about political and sociological theory, drinking mocha lattes and eating spicy foods. As Molly comes to a close on her high school career, she is excited for what the future holds, whether it is studying agriculture, astronomy or something unexpected!
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In the wake of Buffalo shooting, semantics is more important than ever