Happy New Year! How is it 2022 already?! I’ve named this the year of accountability, so let’s start right.
A few weeks ago, BBC Breakfast was on in the background, and I heard journalist Sally Nugent use the term Nitty-Gritty. I raised my eyebrows, shook my head and muttered something along the lines of “we’ve got so far to go…”.
A couple of weeks later, I was on the phone with my cousin who used the exact same phrase. In this case, I had the opportunity to pull her up. I said, “do you know where that term derives from?”, she replied “no”.
Enter my new article.
Many seemingly innocuous words and phrases used daily by the masses have origins in racism. The truth is, regardless of our background, we need to be cognisant of the slanderous history behind these and steer clear.
Knowledge is power. Knowing and understanding the meaning behind certain words and phrases won’t only consider the feelings of others but also help us in our quest to learn about our past to change the future.
Common meaning: The most important aspects or practical details of a subject or situation (source: Oxford dictionary)
Probably one of the most used phrases on my list. This term is thought to have roots in the transatlantic slave trade. Theories suggest the expression originally referred to the residue found in the bottom of boats once a shipment of slaves had been removed from the hold and was eventually stretched to refer to the slaves themselves.
Common meaning: Used as a term of endearment.
This expression has a dark past and was originally a derogatory term used by nineteenth-century British colonial soldiers for the members of an East African nomadic tribe, the Hadendoa. It became a way to refer to the natural hair texture of black people throughout Africa. Rudyard Kipling, who continues to be revered also used this phrase as the title of his controversial poem, which looks at the bravery of the Hadendoa people from a white gaze.
Common meaning: Above oneself, self-important (source: Oxford Dictionary)
The word “uppity” has a sordid past when used in reference to black individuals. Originally found in Joel Chandler Harris’s “Uncle Remus” books, the word became popular among white society intending to demean Black folks. One article on the history of lynchings states that most of the lynchings from 1880 to 1930 were perpetrated against activists, labour organisers and Black men and women who violated white expectations of blacks and were deemed uppity.
This term has been used as an alternative to more derogatory names for visible minority ethnic people. It’s now outdated but incredibly still used today (wow) and all the way offensive.
An old fashioned term used to describe people of mixed heritage
The word ‘caste’ has multiple meanings, none good. The meaning of ‘caste’ with most familiarity in the UK is the stratified class system of India that created segregation and disadvantage for centuries. But the root of ‘half-caste’ is the Latin word ‘castus’, meaning pure, and its Spanish and Portuguese derivative ‘casta’, meaning race. So ‘half-caste’ means impure, implying white is pure and anything else muddies the blood.
The N-word in music
Commonly referenced in musical lyrics by black artists
I want to clarify how much I loathe this word, point blank. If I had the choice, I’d like every person to rid this from their vocabulary. However, I vehemently disagree with any other race using this offensive, belittling racial slur. It’s angering to hear others justify using this word because artists say it in their music. We all know right from wrong, and the answer has and will always remain a resounding NO.
This hits me hard.
Schools are still teaching our children rhymes riddled with offensive connotations. My girls know they’re under no circumstances, allowed to sing along to these songs. We’ve also communicated our position and reasoning to their school and teachers so they aren’t penalised for not participating.
Eenie meenie miney moe
This children’s counting song stems from a song originally used in the nineteenth century to select enslaved people and describe what white slave owners would do if they caught a runaway slave.
The words: “Eenie, meenie, minie mo. Catch an n****r by the toe. If he hollers, let him go. Eenie, meenie, minie mo.”
Baa baa black sheep
This rhyme has colonial links. ‘Three bags full’ refers to the three bags of wool the slaves were told to collect, and ‘yes sir, yes sir’ is how the slaves would reply to the slave masters when told to do a task. There’s much debate around if this nursery rhyme truly references slavery with several parents calling it ludicrous, however until your ancestors have gone through the torture of enslavement, it’s best to listen and learn from those who have.
To break down systemic racism, we have to eliminate what perpetuates this. To see these terms as innocent inadvertently complies with halting racial equality.
Political correctness is often ridiculed. The argument that people are so fragile they need wrapping in cotton wool annoys some. The reality is, every time we pick up a pen, type or talk to someone without considering the words we use and their meaning, we’re in danger of sustaining the harmful ideology that fuels the inequality we’re looking to neutralise in our lifetime.
Sending light and love always.