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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tyffani Dent

When Black Girls are “Fast” and White Male Terrorists are Deemed Boys: Words Matter

Although my mother insists upon calling me “Dr. Dent” at all times (because, she is my mother and that is what moms do), I have never been one to insist upon being called such outside of therapy or assessment sessions. Being something besides “Dr. Dent” in other spaces permits this degree of compartmentalization of various aspects of my life---providing some level of healthy disconnection from the Psychology World.

Yet, I would find my then-best friend make a point to refer to me as “Dr. Dent” when we would be followed in stores without the salesperson ever asking if we needed assistance

Or the time when I was attempting to explore educational accommodations for my child and had the school psychologist go into “Intimidating Word Salad” lingo (e.g. MFE, ETR, IEP) without offering any explanation of what any of that meant. At which point, in my anger because I knew there were many parents to whom such tactics would have resulted in them giving up seeking help, I informed her that I was “reintroducing myself”, and let her know to call me

“Dr. Dent”.

Words matter.

How we refer to people and their actions


In the store (unfortunately), being “Dr. Dent” made the store clerk believe that I may not be a thief and should be there. (Disclosure: I have grown since and my response now when being followed is very much DIFFERENT….)

Within the school, the school psychologist quickly apologized and fumbled through scheduling a meeting with me to begin the special accommodations process. Because Dr. Dent’s child was “worthy” of consideration, while “Mrs. Dent’s” child was not.

Over the last few weeks, I have found myself consistently challenging the language used to describe people and their actions, because the nuances in language choice do impact how we respond to others and our beliefs are often embedded in them.

I had a person address the idea of “sexual promiscuity” (but only in reference to women and girls) and pathologized such. When I challenged how this was being used to define consensual sexual choices/autonomy in girls and women, but not being used in the same vein for boys and men, the person quickly changed from saying promiscuous and went into an explanation of something that was inherently toxic/traumatic, while dismissing my concerns as just “word choice.”

But again, words matter.

Consistently calling black girls who are sexually victimized “fast”, implies that they are somehow responsible for their own victimization

Words Matter

Identifying black boys (such as Tamir Rice who was a CHILD of 12 when he was senselessly gunned down) a “man”, allows for the officer who killed him to use the false narrative of imminent danger, because “men” are capable of harm”, while “boys” should be given leeway.

Because we all have heard of white men in their 20s being referred to as “boys” in the media and even by jurists sentencing them, which permits them to not be held fully responsible for their actions

Words Matter

Black Feminists insisting upon “Black” being at the front of “feminist” because they want to make sure the world and gender-based movements do not try and de-center their intersectionality /lived experiences of multiple oppressions

Because words matter

Or in the last 24 hours where our country has experienced 2 mass shootings where the killers have been white men, and yet they are referred to as

Shooters instead of terrorists

They are identified not as a representation of all white men, but simply as individuals (which allows the white community to not have to take “ownership” for their actions—--which minority communities are often made to do)

There have been comments about “cowardice” vs. “terrorism”---minimizing the full effect of their actions

The swirling of “mental illness” vs “Embracing white supremacist views” are identified as reasons for the behavior---the first being something out of their control, the latter being a conscious decision/something they sought out

Words Matter.


Always remember as you

Attempt to pathologize normative behavior in some and not others

Try to minimize the lived experiences/intersectional identities of others

Work to justify the negative interactions of society towards black boys and girls

Delegitimize how racism, sexism, oppression, and dehumanization of some are being deemed acceptable


Words matter

What you do matters

What you allow to pass as acceptable behaviors and actions


In all of this, whether or not our humanity survives and thrives in such times depends on us




Dr. Dent is a licensed psychologist. Her hardest job is being a Black Woman who centers the experiences of Black women and girls. She makes sure in her everyday life that she attempts to have her words not harm others, because.words matter.

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