When I was a child, one of the favorite game shows I watched with my grandmother on her color television in her room in our house was “Password.” It was a simple game show with lots of laughter and witty banter, sometimes with Betty White on as a contestant, with her husband Allen Ludden as the emcee. For those not fortunate to watch the show in the 1960s, the rule was simple: there were two couples vying for money. A couple comprised a celebrity and a contestant from the general public. One person was given a word that the other person had to guess correctly. The trick? The person who knew the word could give syllogisms, but not the word itself, nor act out the word while the other person tried to guess the correct word. For me, I learned a thesaurus amount of words while watching Hollywood stars I thought were incredibly sexy.
The power of words to win a game show, create worlds, shape viewpoints as we discover their meaning, whether it is on a game show or in our actual lives, was not lost on me recently when my son was going over his vocabulary words for his high school U.S. history course. As I was cooking ground turkey in a skillet, my son came up to me and said, “Hey Dad, we learned the word ‘pogrom’ today, talking about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The Nazis carried out a pogrom against Jews.” Affirming that I was glad he was learning an important word in connection to the atrocities of Nazi Germany and the pogrom that brought about the annihilation of not only Jews, but LGBT people, gypsies, people with disabilities, he went back to his studies and I finished cooking the meal.
After this brief conversation, I could almost hear Ludden’s voice inside of me “The word is…pogrom.”
After supper, and while watching part of MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow” show, my son’s divided attention to his homework and Maddow’s coverage of the Ugandan bill known simply as “Kill the Gays Bill,” the proverbial “light bulb” of new thoughts and new connections went on with a brilliance I could not have scripted. My son drew the new vocab word and the atrocities of the Ugandan bill together quickly: “Now that’s a pogrom! People who are simply gay are being killed by the government of Uganda simply because they are gay? That’s just like Nazi Germany with the Jews,” he said with a certain level of amazement as history was repeating itself. I quickly affirmed his conclusion: yes, the government of Uganda is threatening to carry out a pogrom, which is technically an organized, often officially encouraged massacre or persecution of a minority group, this time being carried out against lesbians, gays, bisexual or transgender people in Uganda.
As an educator who believes that the best way to teach and learn is in the middle of life’s unexpected educational moments, which is usually a serendipitous minute or two where we can teach a lesson that will last a lifetime, I grabbed this opportunity to connect the dots. My son, partner and I discussed openly about the anti-gay bill promoting the killing of gay people for being gay and the members of the secretive evangelical Christian group of legislators — senators and representatives alike — along with reparative therapy enthusiasts, who are known as the “Family” who live on “C St.” in Washington, D.C., who have been supportive of the Ugandan government’s legislative agenda. With incredulity rising in his voice, my son reiterated the argument that sounded more and more inane as he spoke, “They want to kill gays for simply being gay? Really? That’s horrible.”
We all experienced a lesson about a word, connected with an ungodly situation that is occurring today and it is a lesson that will last a lifetime. I could not have planned this better if I had tried. “Pogrom,” an historical word learned for a U.S. History course, designated for the killing of Jews in WWII, was re-born and re-assigned to a modern atrocity of savagery in our world today in the middle of our already filled family life. But, we made room to learn that word today.
The word is…“Pogrom.” : :
This article was published in the Jan. 23 — Feb. 5 print edition.