Racism And The English Language In 21st Century America
By Larry Pinkney
01 November, 2007
In the late 1960s racism was
specifically defined as “the predication of decisions and policies
on considerations of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial
group and maintaining control over that group.” In the 21st century
this definition remains essentially intact and correct.
White Americans collectively
continue to subordinate and maintain control over Black people collectively,
in addition to our Red and Brown brothers and sisters. Despite the fact
that some white Americans are in fact economically desperately poor,
more often than not they remain consciously desperately white; retaining
their whiteness as if it and it alone assures their misperceived superiority
over the Black, Brown, and Red peoples in America and around the world.
Thus, any actions taken by them against us as people of color, be they
large or small, have a built in and fake perception of legitimacy. Such
is the insidious nature of white racism for both the perpetrators and
those being perpetrated upon.
The maintenance of subordination
and control over we Black and other people of color goes far beyond
the brutal and sustained physical component. While it is certainly accurate
that genocide, lynchings, and bloody invasions of sovereign nation states,
etc. by white America is accompanied by enormous and often unspeakable
brutality, the fact of the matter is that it is the component of mental
colonization by white America of we people of color that assures our
continued subordination. One of the most powerful and devastating forms
of mental colonization in America is the English language itself—or
more to the point the controlling definitions of said language.
The esteemed activist, actor,
director, orator, and artist extraordinaire, the late Ossie Davis, put
it this way in his poignant essay titled, ‘The English Language
Is My Enemy:’ “I will say that language is the primary medium
of communication in the educational process and, in this case, the English
language. I will indict the English language as one of the prime carriers
of racism from one person to another and discuss how the teacher and
the student, especially the Negro student, are affected by this fact.
The English language is my enemy.” In elaborating upon the psychological
aspects of “racism” Davis further notes: “Racism is
a belief that human races have distinctive characteristics, usually
involving the idea that one’s own race has a right to rule others.
Racism. The English language is my enemy.” Davis goes on to write,
“The word ‘blackness’ has 120 synonyms, 60 of which
are distinctly unfavorable, and none of them even mildly positive…In
addition, and this is what really hurts, 20 of those words [excluding
the aforementioned 60] are related directly to race, such as ‘Negro,’
‘Negress,’ ‘nigger,’ ‘darkey,’ ‘blackamoor,’
etc.” Thus, Ossie Davis correctly and horribly concludes that
even “thinking itself is subvocal speech” which generally
requires the use of “words” and if those words are the “English
language for the purpose of communication,” those using said language
are forcing “the Negro child into 60 ways to despise himself [or
herself], and the white child, 60 ways to aid and abet” said Black
child “in the crime” against her or himself.
To reiterate: One of the
most powerful and devastating forms of mental colonization in America
is the English language itself—or more to the point the controlling
definitions of said language. The so-called conservatives and liberals
alike of white America are well aware of this, and often actually count
on it. Mental colonization of we Black, Brown, and Red peoples assures
the continuance of our physical subordination and control.
Thus, it came as no surprise
when earlier this week, I heard the white person hosting a nationally
syndicated, so called liberal/progressive radio/television news program
from New York City, blithely and whimsically engage in devastating white
racist language as she referred to the despicable, bloody, and exploitative
“legacy” of a US fruit company in Central and South America,
as a “dark one.” A dark legacy indeed! Clearly, as a professional
journalist she knows and knew the power of the language of her words;
“bananas” or other fruit notwithstanding. This was certainly
not the first time she had engaged in such linguistic lynching. Nevertheless,
to all the millions upon millions of “dark” people in America
and throughout the world, and most especially to our beautiful “dark”
youth; let us remind them of their dignity and their worth. Let us remind
them--and each other--that our darkness is an asset, not a negative.
Any person or people who constantly and consciously use color [i.e.
’dark,’ ‘black,’ etc.] as an equation of evil
or negativity are themselves not worthy of the trust or alliance of
our with people of color.
We are, as Curtis Mayfield
sang, the “people who are darker than blue.” We are dark
but we are not evil or negative, nor will we allow white America’s
liberals (masquerading as progressives) or conservatives to cunningly
reinforce negative emotional and mental stereotypes under the guise
of being our allies.
It is difficult enough for
we Black, Brown, and Red peoples to consistently work at decolonizing
our own minds and those of our youth, without the guileful machinations
of those white liberals who go about the business of reinforcing mental
colonization while pretending to be concerned about our liberation.
The first and most important
step in decolonizing our minds is recognizing that we are, and have
quite deliberately been, mentally colonized. This process of mental
decolonization can, like a prairie fire, be very rapid once it begins.
There is enormous cause for hope, and it is only we ourselves who are
best suited to bring about our own liberation, which ultimately will
positively affect the liberation of the entire world. Sisters and brothers,
let’s hold on to each other’s hopes and dreams as we struggle
forward to keep on keeping it real. We can do this because we must…
is a veteran of the Black Panther Party, the former Minister of Interior
of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only
American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights
case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights.
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