Navigating Through the Language System of Racism and White Supremacy | Comprehension, Context and Connotation
Many people dismiss or become confused by particular words used in U.S. language, language which has meaning both inside and outside the system of racism. Many behaviors associated with words that are used, as we have seen lately, have the affect and effect of inciting violence toward Black and other non-white people. Many people do not even take the time to consider the magnitude of the many seemingly benign words that are spoken, their hidden meanings, or how these words actually affect individuals and ideas, and subsequently create ideologies and institutions within the seats of the power elite.
People generally accept the collective effect of words and sentences and their placement as part of our language and thought, whether negative or positive, without considering the ramifications or “consequences” which are real and are exacted through each word, sentence, and paragraph; through each written and spoken thought, through the laws, belief systems and political policies created with them.
Great effort, especially today, in this yet-to-be-coined era of Trump, this new paradigm shift post the “Post Racial Colorblind” era, must therefore be given to those of us, both Black and white, navigating this system and the words which live both inside and outside of the system of racism.
In order to fully navigate the system of Racism and white supremacy into which all Black people are entrenched and many white people still debate, it is virtually imperative to have a grasp on the language of the system and the ideology, whether it is written, spoken or read, or heard. There are three skill sets necessary to adequately and fully work through the language and the words. If you do not have the following three skill sets, you will need to learn them and then consciously apply them– always. These are what I call the “Three Cs of Navigating through the Language System of Racism in the U.S.”
Comprehension: This is the most important because it is the essence of understanding what you are saying, being told, writing or reading, or the ability of one’s mind to form and craft imagery and concepts from the words. Other terms for this most important aspect of navigation are grasping, cognition, cognizance, awareness, perception, discernment and interpretation. 1
Context: Second to comprehension, but only in its numerical designation and not importance, is the ability to understand the “circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.”2
Connotation: Not in the least, but the last of the three is the ability of the words to summon emotion, or “an idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literal or primary meaning.”3 Connotation is particularly important because it is the feeling of the words. It is the “expressive” part. It is that part of the words, sentences and paragraphs from thought which create the drama and cause people to react happily, sadly, violently or otherwise.
Take the words, Minority, majority and value, for example. Neither word has any value other than numeric outside of the system of racism; in the mainstream, however, both minority and majority are highly racialized words when you apply the “Three Cs of Navigating through the Language System of Racism in the U.S.”
Think about how you normally apply those words. Outside of the system of racism there is a value which is numeric. It has the nation’s democratic belief of “majority rule,” associated with it. We here in the U.S. have come to believe the value in this word is only numeric, as in the counting of people and groups. Even when differentiating white from nonwhite, the word minority and majority are used to denote a numerical value.
HOWEVER, once you apply the Three Cs of Navigating through the Language System of Racism in the U.S., the value of these words literally changes. Once you view them through the lens of white supremacy and the system of racism, your comprehension of these words changes because their contexts change, and their connotations change as well.
For example, if we dissect to the root of minority, we find the word, “minor,” or slight, small, unimportant, insignificant, inconsequential, inconsiderable, of little account, peripheral, subsidiary, negligible, trivial, trifling, paltry, and petty. The root of the word major is crucial, vital, great, considerable, paramount, utmost, prime, extensive, important, serious, or significant.
In determining how the root changes with the addition of the suffix “ity,” we see it forms a noun of the root words. For context, we all know a noun is a person place or thing. In addition, we discover the “ity” is defined as an instance or degree of a quality or condition, as in a state of being.
We must conclude then, that in a “racialized” America when you consider yourself a minority, identify others as minority, or refer to a minority, what is actually being read, said, written or heard is that as a nonwhite or Black person, you are slight, small, unimportant, insignificant, inconsequential, inconsiderable, of little account, peripheral, subsidiary, negligible, trivial, trifling, paltry, and petty.
Moreover, the “value” associated with the word loses its numerical significance altogether and becomes the “degree or quality, or condition, and state of being of the referenced person.
This is not by happenstance, either. When you then reexamine Majority rule, it becomes, rule by persons who are crucial, vital, great, considerable, paramount, utmost, prime, extensive, important, serious, or significant.
This is why it is important to take deep dives and critically think about racialized words that are used both inside and outside of the system of racism.