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Gossip: Learning not to speak with tongues of destruction

Brittney M. Walker | 1/19/2011, 5 p.m.

It's a brand-new year, and many people have made New Year's resolutions they hope to keep in 2011. The goals may vary, but whether they want to shed a few pounds or start a new hobby, one thing many people can aim to improve on is shutting their traps when it comes to spreading gossip.

Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, a world-renowned scholar and Black psychiatrist, says gossip is a poison within the Black community that is destructive; not that gossip, tall tales, and rumors are limited to African Americans. It affects every group of people in one way or another. But among Blacks, it is like arsenic to community efforts, spiritual health and wealth, and psychological well-being.

Just in case you think the gossip issue is just a myth, Robert Joseph Taylor, Linda M. Chatters, and Jeff Levin, a group of psychologists and social scientists, conducted a study among churchgoers. In their research, they found one of the main issues among people within the Black church, in particular, is gossip.

"When focus-group participants were asked about the conflict that church members have with one another, one of the major issues was the problem of gossip," according to the study, which is found in "Religion in the Lives of African Americans." A response from one of the focus-group participants went as follows:

"Gossip, man, just killing folks. But I do believe that, that issue right there would probably be one of the largest issues for churches that there is, the gossip of the tongue and what people have to say and rumors and what's going on with somebody else's life.

You know, it's just like the big soap opera thing that goes on in churches. They talk about people and they get into other people's business. They do what human people do, you know, and it's normal. It's so easy to fall into gossip. But, I tell you this, more often than not, we have spoken evil of people and have hurt people and have killed them with our tongue."

Welsing, who is most noted for her theory concerning melanin and White supremacy, concedes that Blacks have been taught to hate themselves. She expounds upon Neely Fuller's writings, explaining that with gossip comes destruction and division among victims of White supremacy.
Fuller, scholar and author of "The United Independent Compensatory Code/System/Concept," writes, "Stop gossiping ... Gossip promotes injustice. Oftimes it leads to hostility, which in turn, often leads to snitching, name-calling, cursing, fighting, and/or killing. Gossip promotes confusion and unnecessary suspicion. It serves no constructive purpose."

In a book entitled "Enslaved Women and the Art of Resistance in Antebellum America" by Renee K. Harrison, the author explores the effects gossip had in neutralizing resistance and dividing enslaved African women. She writes that gossip was, in part, a result of oppression.

"Enslaved women often projected their hostility toward the institution of slavery and Whites onto other socially, politically, and economically powerless women," Harrison explained. "They criticized, judged, and spoke ill of one another, causing hurt and harm. In this sense, gossip--spiritual and social 'death by language' or 'indirect verbal aggression'-- reinforced sexist norms. That is, it empowered one group or individual and disempowered, denigrated, and excluded another."

Those negative thoughts and hurtful conversations were in fact weakening Blacks' ability to come together, she explained.

"It hindered them from seeing that those whom they excluded were neither... 'the root cause nor source of their anger,' but rather, the source of their collective power to heal, recover, and fight back. By focusing on tearing one another down rather than the systemic strongholds that were the roots of their oppression, the women were, in a sense, feeding life into the oppressive patriarchal systems or person which sought to divide and conquer women."

Gossip is, of course, not limited to women, but applying this ideology to the spiritual health, wealth, and unity of Blacks, especially within the church, Harrison's statements ring familiar to the issues that are prevalent in most spiritual communities.

Finally, the author's research coincides with the perception that gossip often leads to more dubious behavior and long lasting, deep-rooted fragmentation among African Americans.
This could be the year to make a change, not only for oneself, but also for the community at large by not gossiping.