Ask LIE: Oppressive Everyday Language

As a woman of colour adopted by Caucasian parents, race and racism have always been a factor in my life. Racism in every day language is something that I am becoming more tuned in to.

Some people want to believe that race should no longer be an issue that because people of colour are afforded the same opportunities as everyone (in reality this is not the case).  However, the reality is race does matter and it should be discussed, acknowledged and steps should be taken to balance the power inequalities. Race is a social construct, and racism is a social disease. There is overt racism which is continually being addressed but there is another form of racism – one that is normalised, it has seeped into society and is continuously being perpetuated and not being challenged which is causes more damage to society than overt racism. I particularly agreed with Love Isn’t Enough contributor Renee’s comments about  “when children go to school and learn that white people are the only ones who did anything historically important, how is that not actively teaching children racism? When children turn on the television and see that white people are everywhere, whereas; people of colour are relegated to specific roles that are necessarily degrading, how is that not actively teaching them racism? When parents actively have to struggle to find books that have good representations of people of colour, how is that not affirming racism?”

And I would like to add, when the media is trying to be more representative of the general demographic population they are accused of be tokenistic rather than just accepting that this is how it really should be. Publicity campaigns which depict a diverse group of people who are different shades of brown and peach are mocked for trying to be “politically correct” – how is this attitude not perpetuating racism? Illustrating that it is not normal for media representations to be diverse. The fact that many people are ignorant to this type of subtle racism that is constantly going unchallenged is evidence that society is not post- racist. Ignorance is not a valid excuse, we all need to open our eyes and support rather than patronise those who are trying to make changes.

My mother made a effort not only to provide us with books with drawings of beautiful children of colour and black dolls but also when I grew up she and I had (and still do) lengthy discussions about how Western society is “white washed”. I fully believe she embodies an “Anti-Oppressive Parent” and I hope to follow in her footsteps. One strong example that she told me is the use of the word “dark” to describe a sinister and evil things and a foreboding atmosphere. It is often used in literature, the media and every day speech. I was taught to use “dark” in my English class to analyse poetry, I blindly subscribed to this norm, comparing “dark” imagery depicting sinister and evil things and a foreboding atmosphere with “light” imagery signifying purity and blissfulness. When discussing poetry with my mother, she vehemently argued that “dark” to represent a foreboding atmosphere was yet another example of pervasive racism which is glossed over by society by people naively believing that “dark” and “light” comparisons are simply referring to night and day and the night is considered to be scary, when in reality – using “dark” with all its negative connotations is an example of racism against people of colour. I would really welcome your thoughts on this issue. Also can anyone highlight other examples of common day language which is in fact racist and oppressive?


From co-editor Sarah:

I wholeheartedly agree that there is racism in everyday language and we should guard against it. I immediately thought of a few more examples of racism in everyday language: black sheep are the outcasts or odd ones out in a group (because white sheep are the ‘good sheep’ or the ‘normal sheep,’ of course), white lies are better than plain old lies (because if you call something ‘white’ that automatically makes it less upsetting, I guess), black magic is the worst kind of magic (I suppose that would make white magic the harmless, fairy variety).  And I’m sure there are so many more.  This is just off the top of my head.  However, I’m not sure if I feel that “dark” and “light” are examples of racism in language.  Although, I agree there is a negative connotation with “dark,” I did always think of it as associated with night and the inability to see what is around you, which can be frightening and disorienting. That’s just my personal opinion, though, and I’m open to the thoughts of others on the issue.

Readers, co-editors, what do you say?


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