Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Racist Phrases You May Not Even Know Of

Many people use common words or phrases without knowing that they have racist origins or connotations. Here are some examples of such expressions and why they are offensive, along with some historical background:

- Peanut gallery: This phrase is used to describe a group of noisy or critical people, but it originally referred to the section in Vaudeville-era theaters where Black people were forced to sit. The term implies that Black people were loud, disruptive, and ignorant. The term also has roots in the minstrel shows of the 19th century, where white performers in blackface would mock Black people and throw peanuts at them.

- Spaz: This word is often used to mock someone who is clumsy, hyperactive, or nervous, but it derives from the word "spastic", which was once a medical term for people with cerebral palsy. The word is considered very insulting and ableist in many countries. The word was first used as an insult in the 1950s in Britain, where it was also a slang term for a stupid person.

- Hooligans: This word is used to describe rowdy or violent people, especially young men, but it comes from a racist cartoon in the 19th century that depicted a family of Irish immigrants in London as poor, dirty, and criminal. The cartoon was based on a real family named Hooligan, who were notorious for their crimes and fights. The word became popular in the media and was used to stereotype Irish people as savage and unruly.

- Cannibal: This word is used to describe someone who eats human flesh, but it originates from the name of a tribe in the Caribbean, the Canibales or the Caribs, who were allegedly known for practicing cannibalism. The word was used by European colonizers to justify their violence and enslavement of the indigenous people. The word also has a connection to the Spanish word for dog, can, which suggests that the colonizers saw the Caribs as less than human.

- Mumbo jumbo: This phrase is used to describe something that is confusing or meaningless, but it likely comes from the name of a West African god, Maamajomboo, who was associated with domestic violence and misogyny. The god was represented by a masked figure who would intervene in marital disputes and punish women who disobeyed their husbands. The phrase was adopted by English speakers in the 18th century to mock African religions and cultures.

- Fuzzy wuzzy: This term is used to refer to a teddy bear or someone with curly hair, but it was originally a racist slur for the people of an East African nomadic tribe, who had dark skin and curly hair. The term was also used by British colonial soldiers to mock other indigenous populations in Sudan and Papua New Guinea.  The term comes from a derogatory poem by Rudyard Kipling, who wrote: "Fuzzy-Wuzzy broke the square / He hadn't got no papers."

- Sold down the river: This idiom is used to describe someone who is betrayed or abandoned by someone else, but it comes from the practice of slave owners in the upper South selling their slaves to plantation owners in the lower South, where conditions were much harsher. The phrase implies that the slaves were disposable and worthless. The phrase also has a literal meaning, as many slaves were transported down the Mississippi River to be sold at auctions in New Orleans.

- Master bedroom: This term is used to describe the largest bedroom in a house, usually with an attached bathroom, but it evokes the history of slavery and plantation life, where the master had the most luxurious and spacious room. The term also implies a gendered and hierarchical relationship between the occupants of the house. The term was first used in a 1926 Sears catalog to advertise a new type of house design that featured a private bedroom for the parents.

- Blacklist/whitelist: These terms are used to describe lists of people or things that are excluded or included from something, such as a computer network or a social event, but they reinforce the idea that black is bad and white is good. The terms also have historical associations with discrimination and oppression of Black people. The terms date back to at least the 17th century, when they were used to refer to lists of criminals or enemies. In the 20th century, they were also used to refer to lists of people who were banned from working in Hollywood for being suspected of having communist sympathies.

- Gyp: This verb is used to describe cheating or swindling someone out of something, but it comes from the word "Gypsy", which is a derogatory name for the Romani people, an ethnic group that has faced centuries of persecution and prejudice in Europe. The word implies that the Romani people are dishonest and untrustworthy. The word was first recorded as an insult in the 19th century, when the Romani people were often accused of stealing or tricking people out of their money or belongings.

- Eskimo: This noun is used to refer to the indigenous people of northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia, but it is considered offensive by many of them. The word comes from a French term that means "eaters of raw meat", which was based on a derogatory name given by another Native American tribe. The preferred terms are Inuit or Yupik, depending on the region. The word was first used by European explorers in the 16th century, who did not understand the diversity and complexity of the Arctic cultures. The word also ignores the fact that many of these people cooked their food or ate plants and berries.

- Long time no see: This phrase is used to greet someone who has not been seen for a long time, but it is based on a mocking imitation of Native American or Chinese speech patterns in English. The phrase implies that these groups have poor grammar and limited vocabulary.  The phrase was first recorded in the 19th century, when it was used as a humorous way of mimicking the broken English of Native Americans or Chinese immigrants. The phrase also reflects the colonial and racist attitudes of the English speakers who considered themselves superior to these groups.

These are just some examples of everyday expressions that have racist origins or connotations. It is important to be aware of the history and meaning behind the words we use and how they might affect others. Language is powerful and can create or reinforce stereotypes and prejudices.


Sources:

: https://bestlifeonline.com/offensive-sayings/

: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/common-words-phrases-racist-origins-connotations_l_5efcfb63c5b6ca9709188c83

: https://www.cbsnews.com/sacramento/news/everyday-speech-racist-words/

: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/opinion/24-expressions-with-racist-origins-that-you-may-want-to-stop-using/ss-BB1jfXmz

: https://www.rd.com/list/everyday-expressions-that-are-racist/

: https://www.etymonline.com/word/mumbo%20jumbo

: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46780/fuzzy-wuzzy

: https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/sold-down-the-river.html

: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/the-case-for-renaming-the-master-bedroom/2020/07/14/0d7a9a2c-c3f0-11ea-b178-bb7b05b94af1_story.html

: https://www.dictionary.com/e/blacklist-vs-whitelist/

: https://www.etymonline.com/word/gyp

: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/04/24/475129558/why-you-probably-shouldnt-say-eskimo

: https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/long-time-no-see/

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