Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Studying the slurs

A helpful person gave me this link, which is a directory of racial slurs. As a cultural artifact, it is something fascinating. I found that movies I've never even heard of live on as ethic slurs.

Whether a term that white people mostly for other white people (e.g. Yankee, Brit, Redcoat, POHM, WASP, Paddy Wagon) counts as a racial slur is an interesting question. Somehow, I'm not quite getting "redcoat," what the 1700's era American soldiers called the British soldiers, as a racial slur or ethnic slur (after all, the patriots were Brits transplanted a few generations before, how could they really be any different ethnically,) but whatever. Oddly enough, they left out "yuppie," which should probably be there as WASP is.

None of those words would be listed in the dictionary as slurs any more than "boat people" was, but all of them have the power to hurt people in the right context.

IN DC, we had a politician lose his job a few years ago for using the word "Niggardly," which comes from the Scandanavian "hnogard" and has nothing to do with race. Googling the word reveals that a teacher got fired for using it in 2002. FWIW, the racial slur comes from Niger, which is Latin for "black." (That said, anyone who makes such a mistake probably isn't cut out to be a politician anyway.)

I, for one, will do my best to let others cheer for the Yankees, exterminate their wasps, and shop for red coats without giving them the what for they may deserve, but the larger question of how we communicate with each other still stands.

Sad, yet funny, story: When I was a little kid, we did some sort of simulation exercise in the forth grade where the class was divided into loyalists and patriots. For a week, we did things like writing letters to each other arguing about who should pay for the French and Indian war.

Within that week, the groups developed a whole range of insults for one another, primarily "Brit Brats" for the loyalists and "tax cows" for the patriots, though there were many, many variations.

If a bunch of forth graders can work that fast, polite discourse may be doomed.


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