Kaieteur News – What constitutes appropriate or inappropriate language in relation to race? And should an overtly bigoted statement be excused simply on the grounds that there was a poor choice of words.
A poor choice of words can hardly be an excuse for making bigoted statements about others. Those who stand by these words or claim that they are being misrepresented must be prepared to face the inevitable fallout of refusing to withdraw them or say sorry.
So how does one determine what constitutes the misuse or poor choice of words? How does one decide when the use of these words is derogatory, racial or racist? How does one decide when a racial slur becomes an insult or expresses contempt or disapproval towards others?
The difference between slang and a racist or racial rant can be discerned by the context in which they are used. You have to ask yourself, “What was the context involved? What was the purpose of the words in the manner in which it was used? What was it intended to convey? Was it part of a joke or used to poke fun and for which no offence was meant?”
Context is important because context determines the objective of what was said. Was it being said to praise somebody? Was it a compliment or was it a means of insulting or ridiculing someone?
Was it intended to put the person down or to give them a hiding? Was it demeaning or was it harmless? The context is everything.
A bigoted statement can be implied or inferred generally or from the context. Under cross-examination, former CBC Anchor, Dan Rather, once said in court, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it has to be a duck.”
It is not enough to say that these terms represented a poor choice of words. They may well be but what constitutes a better choice of words without losing the original meaning or intent? Are they used to “cuss out” persons or were they used light-heartedly? The context determines whether the uses are derogatory, racial or racist.
The exact wording of the sentence or the phrase in which the words are used is equally important. A good way to determine whether the words were offensive is to repeat them in the manner in which they were used and then to ask yourself whether this was slang, compliment or insult?
Was it intended to stigmatise or characterise a person or group? Read the words, say them out as they would have been said in the conversation and decide whether they were intended to put the persons to whom they referred in favourable or unfavourable light or whether they were neutral. Then you will have a sense of whether the use of the words is derogatory.
The word ‘racist’ infers an argument, whether implicit or explicit, of superiority. Was there anything which would suggest that the statement was used in the context of ascribing superiority or inferiority to any person or group? Was it looking down on others? This is a very important test of a racist statement as distinct from a racial statement.
A racist statement is intended to suggest relations of superiority and inferiority. A racial statement, on the other hand, is intended to express prejudice, bias or dislike based on a person’s race.
The next thing is to ask, whether the use of terms was accidental or deliberate? Was it a Freudian slip of the tongue or was it used deliberately? An accidental slip of the tongue is not hard to detect. Was it part of a reasoned argument or was it used as part of loose conversation?
The other thing is to look at the rejoiners, that is, what followed. Were the terms withdrawn immediately or were they allowed to stand? What was the reaction of the persons to whom the comments were directed? Did they protest or did they ‘let sleeping dogs lie?’
Put yourselves in the shoes of those who are likely to be offended. Would you have been offended by the comments? All of these are considerations which can be used to decide whether we are dealing with an innocent slang or a derogatory slur.
This brings us to another test. How would an ordinary, dispassionate person receive the comments? Would that person have felt insulted or degraded by the use of the terms? Or would he simply feel that it was slang?
Determining whether a statement is racial or racist or racially derogatory is not rocket science. It is quite simple and most people know how to decide this.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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