Sep 242012

In my first ethics class with Dr. Katie Cannon, we were given the following paragraph, with the instructions that we we should try to re-write it, eliminating at least 30 uses of racist and negative language.  This paragraph was written by a former classmate of Dr. Cannon’s, Robert B. Moore, as a way of pointing out the embedded racism in the English language.

Some may blackly accuse me of trying to blacken the English language, to give it a black eye by writing such words.  They may denigrate me by accusing me of being black hearted, of having a black outlook on life, of being a black guard – which would certainly be a black mark against me.  Some may black brow me and hope that a black cat crosses in front of me because of this black deed.  I may become a black sheep, who will be blackballed by being placed on a blacklist in an attempt to blackmail me to retract my words.  But attempts to blackjack me will have a Chinaman’s chance of success, for I am not a yell0w-bellied Indian-giver of words, who will whitewash a black lie.  I challenge the purity and innocence of the English language.  I don’t see things in black and white terms, for I am a white man if there ever was one.  However, it would be a black day when I would not “call a spade a spade,” even though some will suggest a white man calling the English language racist is like the pot calling the kettle black.  While many will be niggardly in their support, others will be honest and decent, and to them I say, that’s very white of you.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ways in which our values are embedded within our language, and about how those values are carried out in the world. Simply put: words matter. I may think I’m not saying much by implying that someone is the “black sheep” of their family, or that something is “black as sin” instead of “pure white,” while waiting for my “white knight” – but, I am. Embedded in that language is the assumption that black = bad; and, conversely, white = good. It’s so simple and so ingrained that we don’t even think about it, which is part of what makes it so dangerous. Words matter.

Stop. Think before you speak. Think about what you may be implying in your speech. Not just what’s on the surface, but what’s underneath.

  4 Responses to “Watch your Mouth”

  1. Great thinking points here. We also see this phenomena visually, as villains and victims are often portrayed as dark-skinned, wearing dark clothing, or actually called “black”, as in Black Widow or Black Dahlia. I remember once noticing that in the movie Dirty Dancing (I’m being totally serious here – this is the first time I noticed this in my young life), Baby wore all white and Johnny wore all black in the scene where they dance on the log together. When I pointed it out, an adult explained to me that it was because Baby was so innocent, but Johnny was not. I didn’t get that at the time. As an adult myself, I of course understand the intended symbolism, but it is a good example of the embedded racism you describe.

  2. Ok, so I love the thought, or maybe it should be considered as fact at this point, that language would in someway determine thought. I guess it could be in inverse as well, that in some way our thoughts could influence out actual language.

    I came across this idea a couple of years ago listening to a podcast about UFOs, experiencers, and the paranormal. They had a guest on the show named Tiokasin Ghosthorse, and he talked of the differences between indiginous thought compared to what he call rational heart and the effects of this on our actions. It really struck me about how the things we say determine our outlook on reality. He specifically speaks to western culture and it’s view on the environment, I think he is right on. Until we change our language and where that language comes from, according to him the brain or the heart. We will never change our behavior.

    Anyways thanks for the interesting post. 🙂 And here is a link to a video of the guy that might be interesting, but I wish I could find a better example of him speaking to language and it’s role in society.

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