Racial Slur or just a Word?

Posted on: 24. Oktober 2009

As you might have guessed from my recent articles, political correctness is something that has me thinking alot the past few days. Specifically, the usage and „banning“ of certain words that are commonly seen as racial slurs – the n word being the most prominent. First off, it is such a banned word that I, a caucasian male from Germany, would certainly receive flak if I used it here.

The word itself has a rather common background – it is derived from the word negro, which was used to describe any black person (at that point in time, mostly Africans). Since Europe was rather assured of their moral and intellectual superiority, the word of course carried the connotation that negroes were stupid, brutish and „wild animals“ compared to European gentlemen. Since the abolishment of slavery, black equality is still not where it could be (another topic I cannot possibly discuss in the same article, but I’m quite sure racial inequality is no unknown subject matter to the average reader ;)), and the word and most of its connotations survived in the form that we all know and cannot say.

But very influential black leaders such as Malcom X and Martin Luther King instilled what is nowadays known as Black Power – a certain feeling of supremacy in the black community, and a very important step towards equality for blacks – however, interesting to me is how this empowering has changed many linguistic facts, such as the word negro (or the n-word) being banned from usage by whites, and at the same time the recoining of the n-word to mean „brother, friend, buddy“ when used among blacks. So not only is it banned for us (with a good reason), but it is black exclusive to the point where they can control our language – for instance, the politically correct term for African Americans, was at a time negro, then it changed to African American, then it changed to black – but these changes were not natural as in people just stopped using African American to just say black – blacks themselves decided which version they thought was less disrespectful to their race, and everyone else had to obey that decision (the process of choosing might have been more natural, i.e. blacks themselves grew out of using African American, and decided it would be okay just to say black).

In conclusion I can say that I always advocate free and natural flow of language, meaning language should not be restrictive, be allowed to change in any direction as long as it is a natural and unforced change. However, in this case the changes the English language has experienced, even if they were forced, represent the struggle of an entire people – linguistic history, if you want to look at it this way. Keeping a few rules unbent just for the sake of the rule and eradicating someone’s identity at the same time? No.


2 Antworten to "Racial Slur or just a Word?"

Political correctness as a whole has gotten completely out of hand.

For example, a „blackboard“ is now a „chalkboard“. Instead of having a „brainstorm“, we instead have a „thought shower“. And of course, „housewives“ should now be referred to as „domestic engineers“.

Eventually, society will become so afraid of offending any minority, no matter how obscure, that we’ll scarcely be able to communicate at all.

Do you find the same sanitization of language happens with Deutsch, or is it purely confined to the English-speaking world?


I wouldn’t say it is confined to English, however German is largely free of it. We have a few certain examples – „Frisöse“, which would be the female version of „Friseur“, was so common that it basically took over the whole stem of the word – this might or might not have been because the profession of the hair stylist was dominated by women, or because it was seen as a low-income job and therefore more likely to be done by women (in a patriarchial way of looking at it). Anyway, nowadays the job actually uses the English translation („Hair-Stylist“).

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