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Racism and the English Language

Kathy Henry
 


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Words are probably the most potent weapon to exist in society. A derogatory statement about an individual can ruin his or her life and the meaning of words can be twisted to accommodate any situation. One of the main reasons racism has existed in this society is because language conveys reality as well as reflects it. If a society is inherently racist, it is natural for the language that is spoken to reflect that racism. The articles by Moore and Churchill discuss how words are used to dehumanize certain ethnic group by making these groups seem subhuman. In using language to make “others” seem less than, society is justified in believing that these groups do not deserve the rights and privileges of the dominant culture. These articles and the other previous articles that I have read convey that racism is a socially constructed idea and was setup for the advancement of Whites and the exclusion of other ethnicities.

Moore’s “Racism in the English Language, ” explores the way language influences Western thought from the first moment language is learned. The English language is peppered with racial stereotypes and slurs, even in words and phrases that seem quite harmless. He shows how these words are not harmless but are used to inflict oppression and feelings of inferiority to anyone considered “different” to American culture. Words such as “nigger, ” “kike, ” and “chink” have been used to label African-Americans, Jews, and Asian-Americans and although it is politically incorrect to use these words, the words and its derogatory meanings have been seared into the consciousness of White America, some who do not see anything wrong with saying these words. Even the names of colors such as “Black” and “White” have been used to promote racism. The color, “Black” means “dirty, defiled” and beyond redemption, ” while White is “pure, clean, filled with innocence. ” These words and their meanings have led to people who have internalized these beliefs and suffer from either delusions of grandeur or feelings of self-hatred. The author of this article feels that recognizing that racism exist in language is the first step in admitting racism still exists in this society and that people should make a conscious effort to use language that is not derogatory towards people based on ethnicity.

Similarly, Churchill’s, “Crimes against Humanity” makes a powerful thesis, stating that in disrespecting Native Americans by using native names, images, and symbols as team mascots, their place in society has been marginalized and degraded. He states with exquisite sarcasm that if the practice of using Native American images and symbols as team mascots continue, there should be teams named the Galveston “Greasers” and the San Diego “Spics. ” Since the using native symbols for sports are not considered to be disrespectful by the dominant culture, this same culture should use other ethnicities as symbols since it is all in the name of fun. He further states that the genocide and degradation of Native Americans is comparable to the Jewish Holocaust and that the United States should be charged with crimes against humanity. In reducing the experiences of Native Americans to mere stereotypes, White society has succeeded in making Native Americans “unreal” to other groups, who passively accept the bigoted views of Native Americans. In both of these articles, the message is that words are used to dominate and oppress anyone who is not born White in this country and keep the status quo in charge. American society loves to label people.

Everyone has to be labeled something: whores, dikes, and niggers. I have been labeled a delinquent teenage mother, welfare recipient and a scourge to society. For many years I believed in these labels and sunk deeper and deeper into the hell that is called low self-esteem until I went to college and found out that I was intelligent and was worthy of respect. Some individuals are not as fortunate as I was and still believe in those labels that society has placed upon them. Sometimes I wonder what American society would do if there were not any labels. Take away the pretensions, the feelings of superiority that comes with having the “right” skin color and some people in this society would be loss. These types of individuals need to feel superior to other people in order to make themselves feel better. I hope that the day when labels are not needed will be sooner than later.

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