Framing—It's Not Just about What You Say, But How
In all communication, but particularly in abolitionist and justice-oriented communication where Black and oppressed folx are at risk, framing is everything. Robert Entman, one of the leading thinkers on framing, defines it as "the selection and highlighting, and use of the highlighted elements to construct an argument about problems and their causation, evaluation, and/or solution."4 What reads as a simple concept influences and determines how all of us hear and read and receive information. Think about the role of varying news networks that represent polar differences in political ideology, like Fox News and MSNBC—framing is everything. The same story, framed by the ideological argument that each network is attempting to make, results in colossally distinct narratives about the cause of what is being covered, the evaluation of how the topic being covered impacts discourse, and effectively, how we as conspirators in democracy should respond to the topic. One of the longest framing arguments is the Israel/Palestine conflict, where two interpretive frames of history and legacy continue to inform every sociopolitical and sociocultural ideological debate that occurs in our two, dominate parties. Why? There is no agreed-upon framing of the conflict.
Framing happens whether we acknowledge it or not; and you might feel inclined to think of framing as merely point of view. More than point of view, however, framing has an intentional task to accomplish, which is to control and drive a particular narrative in order to mediate meaning-making between the one communicating and those listening. As Entman points out, framing is meant, "to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation ,.."5 Key to Entman's proposition is the "moral evaluation" being made about the topic being framed. As with all communication, our moral evaluation as part of our framing approach can be used as either an abolitionist tool in pursuit of freedom and justice and equity, or an oppressive tool in pursuit of false narratives and inferior identity politics and perpetual enslavement. At the basis of all framing in an abolitionist framework is the driving aim of freedom.
Against that backdrop, school leaders with an aspiration to be abolitionist communicators must utilize the driving frame of freedom. Why freedom? At our most human level, all of us are in pursuit of being free—free to our best selves, free to our truths, free to our identities, and free to our callings in the world. The American ideal of freedom, though only an actualized ideal for so few, is deeply imbedded in our communal consciousness as a nation and is central to the story of every identity in this country And, from an abolitionist communication approach, freedom as the framing for building and executing an argument about problems and their causation, evaluation, and/or solution is directly tied to a moral evaluation of justice. There is, of course, a tension embedded with freedom as our framing. In a national climate where ideological politics has formed and informed how varying folx utilizes value words, freedom means different things to different people. When conservatives and progressives, to use a simple sociopolitical ideological binary, speak of freedom, hauntingly different frames are employed, leading communities to different understandings. That said, freedom, beyond political ideology, and captured in the deepest abolitionist sense, is the experience where "slavery and prejudice, sin and sorrow in every form [individual and institutional], are unfelt and unknown."6