Words are weapons -- breaking bridges of misunderstandings, forging identities, and leaving deep cuts through slurs. Language is at the core of what it means to be human.
Racism and racist are triggering words. Use the R word and people pass out in disbelief, clutch their pearls and run for the “not me, I’m not one of them!” hills. The issue with this loaded response is the word has become so monstrous and unsightly that using it to call out someone’s problematic behavior or to fight racism, becomes bogged down and halted in the hang ups around the word.
One of my favorite bits from comedian Dave Chappelle grapples with one of the biggest questions of language - how are words created, especially the ones with the power to harm others?
In his ‘the word nigger’ skit, he highlights the absurdity of how the word nigger may have been created - describing a hypothetical convention where country bumpkin personalities like Ebenezer and Ezekiel are trying to figure out a name to “call those black people we found over there in Africa.” He speculates they began by throwing out words to describe black people, from the slur ‘get off my lawn you...wieners!” to the term ‘no gooders’, using them in sentences, and rolling them around until the word nigger stuck. Besides the hilarity of watching Dave Chappelle personify these characters, with heavy drawl and an askew stance, this skit makes the critical point that slurs aren’t magically pulled out of thin air -- they are intentionally created.
Phrases and words have complex histories, shaping our perceptions of the world, and influencing our thinking on the solutions to our problems. They’re crafted from culture and habit and seemingly coming from nowhere, warping from a regional quirk to a national and worldwide norm.
At some point, someone, somewhere twisted their lips up and blurted, “Dats racist!!” The term racism and racist seems to have been floating around since the 19th century, and coined officially by Magnus Hirschfield who in 1935 used the word in the title of his book Racism, written in German.
Racism is technically defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior, yet we live in a time where we have racism and no racists.
If racism was a dinner party, our current political environment would give us a six course buffet fit with gut busting portions of discrimination (President Trump’s DACA moves to name one of many), sopped up with a side biscuit of prejudice (heyyy Nazis), and washed down with a glass of frothy denial. If we can't effectively use the terms racism and racist to describe and fight these issues, what could the R word be replaced with?
As any of my friends can attest I love making up new ideas. I will remix your favorite song with wildly inappropriate lyrics. I’ll create faux dialogue for inanimate objects and hypothetical scenarios. And sometimes my friends and I make up words and phrases to describe stuff just for the hell of it. My best brainstorming happens in the shower, and also in random conversations with colleagues and friends. I was recently at a dinner where we were talking about current human rights issues and I started joking about how people who want to maintain the status quo and are afraid of difference are really good at coded language like:
Identity politics - A term used against people advocating for recognition of their humanity and proper treatment, warping their plight into a hollow, selfish political ploy with this phrase.
Snowflake - A person who wants equality being perceived as overly sensitive.
Political correctness - A label against someone who advocates for not belittling others for their differences. This term is used to shun them as being too sensitive and killing free speech through their actions.
Race Card - I wish there was a card for race that had a repayment, but being black (or any other brown) isn’t an Amex though, sorry to disappoint.
SJW or social justice warrior - Another label intended to be derogatory, casting people who are advocating for equality as intolerant in their perusal of fighting for something “unreasonable.”
I said, “If these plum fools can make up words and phrases that have powerful meaning, why can’t I?” The words racist and racism haven’t had a rebranding since 1935 ya’ll. Isn’t it time for a “new 'do, who dis?” picture and caption on Instagram for racism? If people can fuck up good actions with stupid labels like the above, we can come up with some language that disarms the racist of racists.
I took it upon myself to brainstorm a new flavor word buffet for racism. If we think of new words -- what power can we wield in conversations around these complex problems? Or we can just have a nice deep belly laugh because life's better that way.
Christina’s Racist/Racism Word Alternatives:
This term describes individuals who are as secure as a wig with no hair pins -- they gain their confidence by a faux superiority complex and their flavor of racism is deeply rooted in insecurity.
Example Sentence: “Rachel, saying ‘all lives matter’ whenever people point out injustices against minorities means you've got some serious shadow shame to deal with. Put the latte down and think about your actions.”
These are the people who cross to the other side of the street when a darker skin person crosses their path. They stare at minorities in restaurants, or say things like “I’m surprised you didn’t get mugged when you went up to Harlem.” Their racism is rooted in fear. They also tan, get lip injections to swell their lips to scary proportions, and are all around a walking contradiction. Alternative: shade sensitive.
Example Sentence: “Tommie. You think Black Lives Matter is the same type of organization as the KKK? You're so melanin averse, it's like you're allergic to common sense.”
The scariest of all racists, their racism is rooted in control and power. Race is a zero sum game with clear winners and losers. Equality = discrimination against whites. These individuals will scream the term reverse racism in your face while clutching onto the many social and economic benefits attached to whiteness, and release books about their entitlement to always win no matter their mediocrity. They actively work in the favor of white supremacy, but don’t you dare you call them racist.
Example Sentence: “Kyle, you’re the most pigment piqued person I know. I think your 2.1 GPA and the post-it note written in crayon as your letter of recommendation is why you didn’t get into that college, not affirmative action.”
Try these phrases out with a buddy. Drop them in emails. Pop them in your next Facebook rant with your racist friend from high school. Play with them in your next Snap story. Cock your head back and yell them at a dinner party. Take it one step further and come up with your own. We’re already creating new language that we can laugh at, and we can only hope to create a new dialogue in the process.