Research has shown that language is the main tool used in spreading racial ideologies. Many people always associate race with skin color, but Subtirelu refutes this notion. Other Scholars agree that racism is a common issue even in regions with people whose skin colors are the same. In addition to this realization, research shows that the culture of any group of people always reflects what they think about other groups of people.
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Lately, linguistic anthropologists have been arguing that language is responsible for the manifestation of such thoughts. Many of their definitions of language have included culture and many other social aspects. For example, Duranti defines language as “a set of cultural practices” (1). Bucholtz’s presentation of this issue is among the best explanations of the relationship between language and culture. He observes that many American youths use African-America English since they associate it with “coolness” (Bucholtz 84).
Therefore, the youths see AAE as a means of expressing their culture. The ability of language to represent the cultural position of certain groups of people has helped reveal certain wrong mentalities that people have towards other races. Many people use language as a medium of transmitting discriminative ideologies and prejudices against others. This paper analyzes a web article, Hearing the Skin: The Relationship between Language and Race, which demonstrates how people use language to perpetuate racist ideologies.
According to Subtirelu, the cultures of different groups of people socialize them to believe that all people belonging to certain races are the same (par. 7). He implies this conclusion using the example of research that required a blind man to identify the race of a person after hearing his voice. The blind man correctly identified the man and explained that “most black people look pretty much the same with few exceptions” (Subtirelu par. 7). This statement demonstrates how people ascribe negative qualities to individuals belonging to different races due to their socialization. They do not need to see people identify their races because of their prejudices. The blind man could categorize black people from the way they speak because his culture socialized him to believe that black people speak in a certain manner.
Subtirelu also argues that people associate different languages with certain habits. They associate some races with good habits and others with bad habits. He illustrates this notion using Disney characters and the roles they play in The Lion King. Characters with American English accents play good roles while those with African-American and Latino accents play villains (Subtirelu par. 11). Some of the characters include Simba, a hero, and Shenzi and Banzai, thugs. Simba uses the Standard American Accent, Shenzi, the African-American Accent, and Banzai the Latino-American Accent. These roles illustrate what the majority of Americans think about African-Americans and Latino-Americans. According to Dick and Wirtz, such mentalities developed from the historical status of some groups of people (8). For example, Black Americans were slaves, while the Latino-Americans are mostly immigrants from neighboring countries.
Subtirelu also argues that physical properties are not the main indicators of racism. He argues that people patronize other races using language. Kiesling reiterates this argument when he asserts that some Americans use other people’s languages sarcastically (102). According to Kiesling, men of the Anglo origin sometimes use Spanish as a mockery to Americans of Latino origin (102). They use it in their discourses to demonstrate the superiority of their language over Spanish, and show that Spanish speakers are lazy, have high sexual appetites, and speak an abnormal language (Kiesling 102). However, such statements are only prejudices. They are not necessarily true.
Subtirelu’s reference to the characters in Disney films is alludes to the association of certain races with class. He says, “Speakers of AAVE occupy the dark and frightening places, where Simba does not belong and should not be” (Subtirelu par. 11). Conventionally, different English dialects in America indicate the classes to which the speakers belong (Bucholtz 85).
Precisely, Americans associate Standard American English with people from the high class and the African-American English and the Latino accent with people from the low-class. Bucholtz demonstrates this argument by describing the study he carried out in an American high school. In that school, some groups of White Americans, Nerds, refuse to behave the way fellow students behave because they associate most of the habits with Black Americans (Bucholtz 85). They are reluctant to speak, dress, or participate in entertainment activities that can associate them with Black Americans.
Involvement in such activities leads to stigmatization by fellow white students (Bucholtz 85). However, many white students mix some elements of the Black American culture with their practices because they associate coolness with the Black American accent and culture (Bucholtz 85). In the same school, the Nerds completely refuse using the African-American accent despite being the commonest language among other students. They use Standard American English to demonstrate their rejection of the Black American culture (Bucholtz 86).
Subtirelu also reminds readers that racial categories are arbitrary since anybody can learn any language (par. 12). He demonstrates this conclusion by giving the example of an African-American actor in a role that required a white character in the Disney film, The Lion King. This phenomenon confirms that nobody has an inborn ability to speak a specific language. The mind of every human being has a special device that helps in the acquisition of language (LAD).
The LAD does not acquire only specific languages (Saussure 68). Therefore, exposing people to any language makes them learn how to speak like the native speakers of that language. According to Subtirelu, people who stigmatize others because of their races are not born with racist attitudes but acquire them as they interact with their cultures (par. 12). Hence, educated individuals should understand that discriminating against other people because of their race is not right.
Boaz agrees with Subtirelu that language as a method of classifying people into races has existed for a long time (2). He says, “…for instance among North American Negroes, a people by descent largely African; in culture and language, however, essentially Europeans” (Boaz 4). This statement shows that he acknowledges language and culture as methods of classifying people into races. However, he disagrees with Subtirelu’s assertion that language is the main criterion of classifying human races. In his view, classifying people based on their “type” is the commonest method of racial classification (Boaz 3).
This contradicts the experiments Subtirelu describes in his article. The experiments disprove skin color as the main method of classifying people into races. Worse still, Boaz’s reference to blacks as Negroes is very harsh. According to Dick and Wirtz, mentioning the word, Negro reminds African-Americans of the suffering their ancestors experienced during the slavery period (7). The point Boaz makes in his statement is that Black Americans are Africans in appearance but Europeans in speech. The statement demonstrates that people from any race can learn any language and speak it as fluently as native speakers. This point concurs with Subtirelu’s assertion that people should not discriminate against each other on the basis of their races since anybody can learn the language spoken by any race (par. 12).
Furthermore, Subtirelu argues that people need very little input to recognize other people’s races (par 3). This mentality is a result of the conventional predispositions among people, and Subtirelu’s example of the blind man illustrates it very well. According to Dick and Wirtz, it is improper to use statements such as “the blackness of an African is seen through speech register, body movements, rhythm and costumes” (9). They believe that such statements are expressions of the negative attitudes people have toward people who do not belong to their races.
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Their argument also demonstrates the use of language in perpetuating racism (9). According to them, an individual does not necessarily have to utter racist words to show he or she is a racist. They insist that mentioning some words, whether accidentally or intentionally, makes one a racist. They believe that even saying, “I am not a racist” makes the speaker a racist. This assertion means that Boaz’s reference to African-Americans as Negroes is wrong. Therefore, people can end racism if they decide to get rid of all racist statements from their minds and discourses.
In summary, language is a major indicator of racial discrimination. Many people use it to perpetuate discrimination against others. Usually, the words people use to refer to others express their racially discriminative attitudes towards them. Scholars argue that words such as Negroes and Nigga are indicators of discrimination. Blacks consider these terms very harsh references to them. Other forms of racial discrimination that use language include assigning evil roles to actors from stigmatized races in movies. In such cases, the producers use their accents and speeches in bringing out the traits of that pe
rson associated with certain races.
Boaz, Franz. Introduction to Handbook of American Indian Languages, 1966. Lincoln: University of Nebraska. Print.
Bucholtz, Mary. “The Whiteness of Nerds: Superstandard English and Racial Markedness.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11.1(2001):84-100. Print.
Dick, Hilary and Kristina Wirtz. “Racializing Discourse.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 21.1 (2011):1-10. Print.
Duranti, Alessandro. Linguistic Anthropology, 1997. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Print.
Kiesling, Scot. “Stances of Whiteness and Hegemony in Fraternity Men’s Discourse.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11.1(2001): 101-115. Print.
Saussure, Ferdinand et al. Course in General Linguistics. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1966. Print.
Subtirelu, Nic 2013. Hearing Skin Color: The Connection between Language and Race, 2013. Web.