In Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation, (Palgrave Macmillan, $28), I've outlined many different areas of media where prejudice and stereotypes are often used to draw audiences.
From the racial signaling favored by Fox News Channel and Andrew Breitbart to the struggle for fair representation in scripted TV series and so-called "reality TV" shows such as The Bachelor, too many corners of the ever-fragmenting media universe play to our worst instincts to get and keep our attention.
And one of the biggest stumbling blocks in our national conversation is deceptively simple: the words we use.
A single well-placed idea or thoughtless phrase can define the whole framework of debate, opening up new levels of conversation, or abruptly cutting it off. .
I still recall the day, while teaching a college course as an adjunct professor, when a female student informed me she wasn't a feminist. Turns out, she believed in virtually all of the ideals of feminism -- equal pay for women, freedom from over-sexualization in media, fair representation among elected officials -- but, as a fan of conservative talk radio star Rush Limbaugh, she had been turned off of the phrase by his criticism of it.
In wars of ideas, words are often the foot soldiers, paving the way to victory or defeat before the battle even begins.
Here's my list of the nine most dangerous words we use when talking about race, prejudice, politics and media -- and some suggestions for how we might redefine them to help dialog across race and defuse stereotypes.