Episode 143: Racial Terms

Can offensive terms be reclaimed by the people they’ve been applied to? Or are some words best left alone?

In a related issue, sports teams are facing pressure to change their racially-charged names. Should they?

Linguist Daniel Midgley looks at some touchy issues on this episode of Talk the Talk.


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Talk the Talk keeps growing to include more bits and pieces. But this time they all came together on one theme: how do we use language to refer to groups of people? Lots of words have become less taboo in recent years, but here’s a group of words that are becoming more taboo.

Rock group the Slants are having trouble trademarking their name. The Washington Redskins are under pressure to change theirs. Is there a better term than ‘feminist’? It’s all in today’s show. Also, candy.


Show notes

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is going to try repealing the law regarding racial vilification.
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/george-brandis-to-repeal-bolt-laws-on-racial-discrimination-20131108-2x50p.html
http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/08/13/3566446.htm

He said he would do this in a speech to the IPA back in April, along with getting rid of a lot of other things. All part of the plan, folks.
http://youtu.be/j4pA5nTr8i0?t=7m15s

The Slants

The US Patent and Trademark Office is knocking back the name of the Slants, an all-Asian band.
http://entertainment.time.com/2013/10/23/the-slants-suit-asian-american-band-goes-to-court-over-name/

Interview with Simon Tam, bassist and founder.
http://defender.smcvt.edu/?p=1802

Simon also comments on this Language Log thread.
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=8001

John Gumperz explained how language communities use language as a way of defining themselves as a community.
http://asalinguist.com/2011/06/16/take-two-words-we-cannot-say-except-when-we-can/

Redskins

The word isn’t often used as a compliment.
Google Ngram Viewer link

Newspapers are abandoning it.
http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2013/10/san-francisco-chronicle-to-stop-using-redskins-176321.html

The DC City Council is against it.
http://www.wjla.com/articles/2013/11/d-c-council-to-debate-redskins-name-resolution-96424.html

The APA recommends discontinuing it.
http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/indian-mascots.aspx

The full APA resolution (PDF)
http://www.apa.org/about/policy/mascots.pdf

But guess who supports it: sports fans and the team owner.
Loads of Americans support the use of ‘Redskins’
http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=224760&print=1

Money quote: ‘“Everybody protests about everything. I think we should all just forget it and have fun,” said a fan.’http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2013/11/09/native-americans-weigh-in-on-washington-redskins-controversy/

The psychological consequences of stereotyped portrayals of Native Americans (PDF)
http://sitemaker.umich.edu/daphna.oyserman/files/frybergmarkusoysermanstone2008.pdf

A clinical psychologist speaks out.
http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/09/27/harmful-psychological-effects-washingtons-redskins-mascot

Eastern Washington University, my hometown uni, used to have a Native American mascot: The Savages. They ditched it in 1973, but for years, the sports center had the old logo stamped into its bricks.
http://easterneronline.com/2013/03/07/no-salvaging-savages/

The Utah Utes use the name with the express support of the Ute Tribe.
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/600160110/U-officially-files-appeal-on-Utes-nickname.html

The N-word

If they can say it, it doesn’t follow that everyone can.
http://www.personal.psu.edu/ejp10/blogs/thinking/2010/08/can-a-white-person-ever-legiti.html

But why not? Christopher Hitchens explains.
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2006/12/eschew_the_taboo.html

Beat poet Julian Curry is not a fan of the n-word, even as reclamation.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD-UpHlB9no

Genderism

Joss Whedon’s speech at Equality Now, in which he recommends genderism over feminism
http://jezebel.com/watch-joss-whedon-make-the-perfect-speech-about-the-wor-1460080685

The term is currently in use, though.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genderism


Show tunes

‘Ongaku’ by Señor Coconut
from the album Yellow Fever!

‘Red Dust’ by Calexico + Iron and Wine
from the album In the Reins

2 Comments

  1. Hi chaps (if I may call you that): you asked for feedback on sensitive issues in this podcast, and I thought I'd raise one that you didn't get to, probably because it's not related to race – fattism. At one point Ben talked about some people being 'big fat jerks', and while I'd certainly agree that the people in question probably are jerks, I try to avoid implying that someone's weight determines their personality, and vice versa. I wouldn't normally have mentioned it, but since you asked for feedback, I thought it was interesting how stereotypes can hang around in phrases without even someone as sensitive and informed as Ben noticing it. Love the show, logofascinated creature that I am.

  2. Thanks, missjane. That's a great point, and I'm just about positive I've used that term, too. Just shows how easy it is to slip into a cultural script, even when you think you're language-aware.

    I'll be watching out for a way to work that into a show. Thanks for listening, and for commenting!

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