Sunday, January 07, 2007

On Words That Have Been Flogged To Death And Need To Be Cremated And Have Their Ashes Scattered

If there is not yet a world-wide list of tired-out, over-used, and mis-used words, phrases, and cutesy-poo terminologies, there really needs to be one. And as someone who loves the language for the range of thoughts and ideas it can convey when used correctly, I will gladly lead the charge on this one.

As a general observation, those of us who speak English as a mother tongue have gotten woefully lazy. We also expect our fellows to be mind readers -- to interpret our laziness and insert the correct nuance at the correct place in the spoken thought. We pluck a familiar derogative out of our memories, with no thought as to its origins or its correct interpretation, and we use it as a weapon with which to bludgeon opposing thoughts. And in doing so, we hope to embarrass and shame the owner of those opposing thoughts into submission and silence.

Two closely-related examples of this are the terms racist and racism.

The term "race," when applied to humans, was originally used as a scientific classification denoting genetic lineage. In other words, it was a grouping of people with inherited physical traits that linked them one with another. It was essentially a term of tribal linkage, and was exteremly useful to anthropologists as a way of tracking human wanderings and settlements about the planet. It helped us understand that we as a species evolved, rather than appeared in a magical poof of thought from an invisible prestidigitator. This understanding led to other, more recent sciences, which is a whole different conversation, so I'll not go into that here and now. Suffice it to say that "race" was a way for scientists to understand myriad things about the beings known as "humans."

Nowadays, we hardly use the term "race" without turning it into a perjorative.

"Race" has become synonymous with skin color, religion, and culture -- and the only one of those strictly human qualities that qualifies as genetic is skin color. So let's just focus on skin color and leave everything else out of it for now (and I'm going to short-cut a lot of this; you know how the language game is played or you wouldn't have read this far).

"White" is the skin color that is generally associated with northern European tribes. Northern Europeans are anthropologically known as Caucasoid/Caucasian. Arabs and Jews are tribal Caucasians (they are also semetics, but that particular terms links them as a language group, not a race). But they are not "white," per se. Some are very dark-skinned -- known as "black" -- which is also a skin color, and one usually associated with the continent of Africa and the anthropological group known as Negroids. But Arabs are not Negroid. And then there are the Australian aborigines, who are also very dark-skinned, but also not Negroid. Matter of fact, the Australian aborigine is closer anthropologically to the Caucasoids than the Negroids. But they are definitely not "white."

And with that, several politically-correct heads have just exploded, and I am about to be accused of having made racist comments. Wait for it...

And over at I'm Not Paranoid, there is a questionaire that will help you to determine whether or not you are a "racist." I ought to warn you, though, before you answer the questions -- you can't not be a racist. The game is rigged. And INP shows you some of the rigging and hidden wires. Not all of them. Just an overview. But enough to pull back the curtain a bit and see that the little man behind it has an agenda.

That agenda is your complete and utter surrender. Your shamed and beaten surrender. Your exhausted willingness to turn off your brain and yield, without further questions or thoughts, to the idea that no matter what you say or do, you are no more than dogshit on the bottom of the little man's shoe and that you ought to be grateful that you are allowed to keep on breathing.

And you are supposed to do this without asking the most obvious question:

Who is the little man?

Hint...he is someone who knows the power of the bludgeon, the steady, ceaseless, relentless, monotonous pounding of a blunt and deathless object (his "truth" as he sees it -- and he will always call it by that name, TRUTH) against the sometimes soft, sometimes brittle, and almost always fragile life force of "thought." He seeks to kill it before it can grow and mature. He wants it dead before it lives, because he fears it. If allowed to flourish, it will give you the power to resist him and his desire to control your life for...are you ready for this?..."the good of all"...whatever that means.

You're not supposed to question what that means, of course. To question the "good of all" is racist. It's also unneccesary to question. You have more productive ways available to use your time and energy, so why are you thinking? The little man will let you know what "the truth" is, and all you have to do is accept it and work within that truth. No, you don't have to agree (but if you don't agree, you are racist), just accept. Go along with it, for now. See if it isn't easier to just float along rather than try to swim against the current. Yeah, that means you go in a different direction than you started out, but it's so much easier, you see...

If you float long enough and you will lose the ability to swim. Your muscles will lose their tone and strength, and will atrophy. You will never be able to swim again. You will become a virtual jellyfish, completely dependent upon the direction of the current in which you are caught.

Let others think for you long enough and you will lose the ability to think for yourself. Your brain will atrophy. If you stop using the "muscle" of thinking, you will never be able to think for yourself again.

The ability to communicate effectively using the English language is a thinking process. You need not only to remember the words you use, but you really need to know their correct meanings to begin with. And if the words evolve from one meaning to another (the word "gay" comes to mind as an obvious and oft-repeated example), you need to realign your emotional response to the new meaning. Or you need to stop using the word entirely.

"Racist" used to mean "a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others." This belief has been shown to be not only incorrect, but harmful, and yet the word is still in use. These days, though, it means "a person who notices and comments upon or even thinks aloud about, the differences among peoples of differing backgrounds/religions/skin colors/cultures/language groups/physical appearances and abilities/economic circumstances/etc.

The meaning has changed, but the emotional response has stayed the same. This actually suits the little man's purpose extremely well. So, we need to do one of two things: we either need to get new words to replace "racist" and "racism" in order to bring them into line with current usage, or we need to stop responding with the autonomic cringe that those terms evoke.

It is much easier to coin new words and phrases (Stuck On Stupid, anyone?) than rewire the Pavlovian conditioning of the emotions. Therefore, I vote we find new words. Please feel inspired to blog about your own personal candidates as replacement terms for words that are 'way overdue for permanent retirement.

A memorial service for the current terms will not be held. I don't know about y'all, but I'm not going to miss having them pop into the conversation any time someone wants to hit me over the head with an emotional cudgel.

(H/T to Candace for the reference post)


Blogger michael said...

(2nd attempt, lost the first post)

I have never liked the term "white".

Being of Northern European descent, by way of Minnesotta, I can lay claim to being Caucasian. But whenever someone calls me white, I bare my arm to show my freckles.

Not white. Mottled brown over pink with somewhat ruddy undertones, but not white.

Whenever official forms ask for racial designations, and they use the term "white" instead of caucasian, I put "other" and then specify "polka-dotted".

Tuesday, January 09, 2007 9:50:00 AM  
Blogger michael said...

This is why, by the way, I always support the right to bare arms.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007 9:52:00 AM  
Blogger michael said...

Darn, that guy's blog is hard to get into. I managed to view the page in question and take the test, but was unable to leave a comment or return to the page once I had left it.

BTW, my score was 0. Ask me why.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Chimera said...

Blogger seems to be "having some issues" (and there's another phrase I want to bury) with comments today. And it took me over an hour to be able to log in. Try again with INP's page -- it might work, now.

"Polka dotted?" LOL! I might try that one myself (although I have no freckles, I have liver spots, so I guess that qualifies me...)!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Dez said...

Okay, well, the "issues" with Blogger won't let me comment on INP's blog, nor can I log onto mine. So, if you don't mind, I'll try posting my rant here:

Black welfare mothers and basketball players, jewish doctors, mexican landscapers, and chinese driving instructors (I threw that one in on my own) all have only one thing in common, and it isn't about race.

I once met a young African gentleman from Uganda. I'll call him Edward. He was, by far, the darkest human I had ever seen. Edward arrived in NYC at the age of 21, with his pregnant wife and just enough cash to get a tiny studio apartment. The next day it snowed, and it was the first snow he had ever seen. The following day he had a job shoveling snow.

He has never been without a job since. Today, he is an executive manager for one of the largest cellphone companies in the world.

But, back when the young couple lived in New York City, they had settled in the Harlem area, thinking that they would make friends in the black community.

It didn't work out that way. The american black people that Edward met in Harlem were poor, most of them living on welfare. They blamed their poverty on the white people, and considered being black a disadvantage in the white society. In effect, they assumed that they were poor because they were black, and there was nothing they could do to change their situation.

This attitude made Edward very angry, and his anger was obvious to me when he spoke of it, many years later.

He said, "I am blacker than all of you, and I will become successful in this country. Black or white means nothing, if you have the will to work for what you believe."

I have met white single mothers living on welfare, and I'm sure they have the same problem that the black mothers do - they don't believe they can make their lives better. They are defeated by life, and have given up. It can happen to anyone, regardless of race.

Black basketball players started out as black children who wanted to play basketball. That's it. It seemed like an achievable goal. They had a dream and they went for it. They never gave up.

Why are there not more white players? They don't want it bad enough. That's it.

Jewish doctors, lawyers, entertainers, whatever. They were encouraged by their parents to make themselves better - academically and financially. There may be a cultural aspect of the Jewish faith that teaches people to better themselves. In any case, being Jewish is not a race, it is a religion.

Being Hispanic is a linguistic and cultural distinction, not a race. Racially, most Mexicans have native roots. Often Aztec or Mayan, but there are hundreds of tribal groups in Meso-American. Unlike the English, the Spanish sent missionaries to convert the natives, not colonists.

Next time you feel like the Mexicans are invading North America, remember they were here first.

And recent immigrants from asia are usually struggling with a confusing language and culture. Driving a car is a complex skill that involves rules which we often take for granted, but can be misunderstood by someone not familiar with them.

Blaming race for any of this stuff is ignorant. It is not about race. Race means nothing.

I wish we could remove "racist" and "racism" from our language. First you have to extinguish the root word: race. Once that is gone, the rest will follow.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007 2:30:00 PM  
Blogger Chimera said...

I think the servers are having trouble connecting because of the weather. I mean, jeez, winds that can uproot forty-plus-foot-tall trees can also play havoc with wires strung in the way of some of those trees. Try INP again later, maybe.

Excellent rant.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007 2:58:00 PM  

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