Sunday, October 12, 2008

Word hating

As John McCain's ratings slide in American opinion polls and the election looms ever closer, the language of his supporters and even of McCain himself becomes more and more angry. According to various reports, including this one from the BBC, McCain's supporters have taken to shouting words like "terrorist", "Arab" and "traitor" whenever Obama's name is mentioned. Meanwhile, McCain himself has attracted criticism for referring to Obama as "that one" and gesturing in an offhand way towards him during a TV debate, and a black TV cameraman was told to "sit down, boy" by a white Republican supporter at a recent rally. Maybe he thought he was at a KKK rally.

Veteran civil rights activist, John Lewis makes the point that "toxic language can lead to destructive behaviour" and the language of race and ethnic identity in the USA is fraught with painful history.

Obviously, this blog is pro-Obama, so I'm biased, but the festering racism lurking under the surface of a lot of these increasingly desperate Republican yelps makes for interesting reading from a language point of view. Admittedly, no one from McCain's camp has gone on record as saying something as blatant as "lynch the nigger" or to describe Obama as "an uppity negro" - the bald racism of the segregation era - but the lack of respect in "that one" and "boy" can be decoded pretty quickly.

On a different tack, here's a very good article on and interview with Sarah Silverman, the Jewish American comedian who is trying to rally support for Obama among one of its less obvious demographic targets, elderly Jewish people. Her use of racist language is set in the context of its anti-racist roots, making it clear that it's not the words you use but the way you use them which is really significant.

Useful for:
ENGA2 - Investigating Representation

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