Dark Usage of the English Language

The more one looks into racism, the more prevalent it appears. From investigating racism further in this class, I was astonished at the profound effect it has on many disciplines. Its integration into literature and the English language in particular is astonishing. Max’s description in class of the field of gynecology being “dark” sparked my further investigation into terms in English that have racist backgrounds. When I looked up the word “dark”, I found various definitions: “gloomily pessimistic”, “a situation characterized by tragedy, unhappiness, or unpleasantness”, and “not fair in complexion” (Merriam-Webster).

Could it be purely coincidental that a term that describes African American skin also has a negative connotation? Even Medical Apartheid, a text that exposes how racism intertwines with the medical field, uses “dark” on its cover with a negative connotation. After Dr. McCoy pointed this out in class, I became curious about other racist origins behind English words.

In Rachel’s post My Geneseo “English Class” Rule, she discusses how “slave” and “master” are used in instances unrelated to actual slavery in the United States. Her discussion sparked my remembrance to the first time I encountered usage of these terms. I was setting up the two pace clock we use on the pool deck during swim practice. When my coach was explaining to me how to synchronize the clocks, he explained how one clock was the “slave” and the other was the “master”. Initially, I regrettably laughed at the odd usage of the words. I had never heard “slave” and “master” used in this manner, and it seemed bizarre to me. I thought nothing of this incident until we reading Rachel’s blog post. I regret laughing during this incident, as I realize now the connotation behind the usage of the word. Since I have already made the mistake of not realizing the racist origin behind a term, I decided to look further into racism in the English language to hopefully refrain from making a similar mistake.

In my search, I found an article entitled Racism in the English Language. The article stated language “reflects society’s attitudes and thinking”. Examining a society’s language can be a critical lens into investigating the society’s racist history. The article highlighted how white consistently symbolizes positive situations while black symbolizes negative. Interestingly, the article also discussed how discrimination towards other groups is also portrayed in the English language. Conflicts between explorers and Native Americans in which the Native Americans were successful were called “massacres”–if the explorers won, they were “victories”. Children immigrating to the US from third world countries are often described as “culturally deprived” when in fact many bilingual and embrace both their native culture and the dominant culture.

The examples discussed in the article reminded me of the sexist depiction of human reproduction in General Biology. When learning about human reproduction, we learn how the male sperm swims and “attacks” the female egg, which is apparently docile and just waiting for the male. This questionable description has been debated–is it just coincidental that the male scientists that first described the anatomical process described the process to mirror sexist views of the time? Probably just as coincidental as the usage of “dark” to describe a unhappy, unpleasant situation.

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