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10 common phrases that are actually racist AF


10 common phrases that are actually racist AF

10 common phrases that are actually racist AF

As much as we would like to pretend every phrase we utter is a lone star suspended in the space of our own genius all language has a history. Unfortunately given humanity's aptitude for treating each other like shit is fraught with reminders of our racist world.

10 common phrases that are actually racist AF

Since I have faith that most of you reading want to navigate the world with intelligence and empathy I figured it would be useful to share some of the everyday phrases rooted in racist etymology.

Knowledge is power and the way we use our words can make a huge difference in the atmospheres we create.

10 common phrases that are actually racist AF

1. Thug

Ever hear white rioters called thugs on the news ? Or killer cops? Nah just us RT @PerilsOfAndrea: kids telling me thug is the new "N" word — Talib Kweli Greene @TalibKweli May 2, 2015
According to Meriam-Webster's dictionary definition a thug is "a violent criminal."  this definition leaves the word open to define people of all ethnicities.

The frequent ways this word has been used to describe Black Lives Matter protesters the 17 year old murder victim Trayvon Martin, and almost every black victim of police brutality there is an undeniable racial charge to the word.

When you consider the people who are called thugs groups of black protesters victims of racist violence teenagers minding their own business and flip the racial element you would be hard pressed to find examples of white people being called thugs in earnest by the media or really by anyone.

Marshawn Lynch is "thug" because he doesn't talk enough and Richard Sherman is a "thug" because he talks too much? Coach Ray Hubbard @rjhubbard January 27, 2015
Some prominent activists and black writers have written about the phenomenon of thug replacing the n word in modern culture. In a popular press conference back in 2014 the Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman explained his feelings about the word.

"The reason it bothers me is because it seems like it's an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word now. It's like everybody else said the N-word and then they say 'thug' and that's fine. It kind of takes me aback and it's kind of disappointing because they know." Sherman said.

If a 1400 SAT score and a degree from Stanford makes you a thug then I want my kids to be thugs. @RSherman_25 pic.twitter.com/MWuWWPNSWh Bipartisan Sports (@BipartisanSport) August 23, 2015
If you are talking about an actual criminal there are so many descriptive words to invoke besides thug. Its current use as a negative racially coded word avoiding its use seems like an easy and obvious move.

2. Grandfather Clause

Quick reminder that the Grandfather Clause is a racist policy that was used to purposefully disenfranchise black voters after the Civil War https://t.co/QWmRwLHJUx Maddie Ferrill (@maddieferrill) November 8, 2016

When we hear the term grandfather clause we just think of the generalized description: a person or entity that is allowed to continue operating over now expired rules. But the literal meaning reveals the grandfather clause was a racist post Reconstruction political strategy.

This is the historical definition according to Encyclopedia Britannica:

"Grandfather clause, statutory or constitutional device enacted by seven Southern states between 1895 and 1910 to deny suffrage to African Americans. It provided that those who had enjoyed the right to vote prior to 1866 or 1867 or their lineal descendants, would be exempt from educational, property, or tax requirements for voting. Because the former slaves had not been granted the franchise until the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 those clauses worked effectively to exclude black people from the vote but assured the franchise to many impoverished and illiterate whites."
In modern speak, this basically meant the Grandfather Clause let white people off the hook for new voting requirements because their ancestors were already registered voters. Meanwhile, black people were required to fill out impossible literacy tests and pay exorbitant poll taxes to vote. This in turn, meant many black people were unable to vote, while white people weren't held to the same standard.

3. Gypsy or "Gyp"

The word Gypsy was and is a racial slur referring to the Roma people. The Roma people are descendants of Northern India who due to severe marginalization and threats of violence by others lived a nomadic lifestyle of forced migration for centuries.

Roma people were taken as slaves in Romania and were targeted for genocide by the Nazis.
The word Gypsy is a slang word perpetuating stereotypes of Roma people as thieves, rowdies, dirty, immoral con-men asocials and work-shy according to the Council of Europe.
In a similar vein the term Gyp or getting gypped means to cheat or get conned and many connect this meaning as another racist extension of Gypsy.

4. No Can Do

The saying no can do and long time no see came from Westerners mocking Chinese immigrants https://t.co/CAsGbfynxj Justin Beauchamp @LongDongBchamp May 15, 2018
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the very common phrase "no can do" was originally made popular as a way to make fun of Chinese immigrants.

"The widespread use of the phrase in English today has obscured its origin: what might seem like folksy abbreviated version of I can’t do it is actually an imitation of Chinese Pidgin English. The phrase dates from the mid-19th to early-20th centuries an era when Western attitudes towards the Chinese were markedly racist."

5. Sold Down The River

"The phrase sold down the river' came from Louisville Kentucky where the enslaved were traded in one of the largest slave markets of the 19th century." https://t.co/9pwGwoX8sk Pedro Nicolaci da Costa @pdacosta April 23, 2018

Many people associate the phrase sold down the river with the notion of being betrayed lied to or otherwise screwed over. While these definitions all technically apply to the origin the root of this phrase is much more bleak.

River was a literal reference to the Mississippi or Ohio rivers. For much of the first half of the 19th century Louisville Kentucky was one of the largest slave trading marketplaces in the country. Slaves would be taken to Louisville to be sold down the river and transported to the cotton plantations in states further south.

This heavy connotation sadly makes sense but also makes casual use of the phrase feel way more cringe inducing.

6. Welfare Queen

The GOP argument on Obamacare has more than a whiff of Reagan-era racial "welfare queen" politics ---> http://t.co/2ZQ0Baj9pQ Ron Fournier @ron_fournier February 6, 2014
The term welfare queen was first popularized by Ronald Reagan's 1976 presidential campaign in which he repeatedly painted a picture of a Cadillac-driving welfare queen.
This woman in Reagan's campaign served as a racially charged exaggeration of one minor case of real welfare fraud used to pedal his platform for welfare reform.

The term has lived on as a racially charged vehicle used to undermine the importance of welfare programs while peddling gross stereotypes about black women.

This stereotype is of course ignoring the fact that poor white Americans receive the most welfare out of any economically disadvantaged demographic.

7. Shuck And Jive

Obama's Shuck and Jive Ends With Benghazi Lies http://t.co/srKGX5Va Sarah Palin @SarahPalinUSA October 24, 2012 The term shuck and jive is both common and obviously rooted in the language of slavery.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the phrase shuck and jive refers to:

The fact that black slaves sang and shouted during corn season and this behavior along with lying and teasing became a part of the protective behavior normally adopted towards white people in  traditional race relations.

The modern usage of this phrase refers to pandering selling out or instances in which black people go along with racist white people's wishes. 

8. Long Time No See

How has the phrase long time no see not been called Native American verbal redface? Rucka Rucka Ali @iamRucka March 21, 2018

The very commonly used greeting long time no see first became popular as a way to make fun of Native Americans. The phrase was used as a way to mock a traditional greeting exchanged between Native Americans.

This is the definition according to the Oxford Dictionary:

Long Time No See was originally meant as a humorous interpretation of a Native American greeting used after a prolonged separation. The current earliest citation recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary OED comes from W.F. Drannan’s book Thirty one Years on Plains 1901: When we rode up to him sc. an American Indian he said: ‘Good morning. Long time no see you."
The act of committing genocide is not limited to human lives but also translates to a cultural violence. mocking and erasing someone's language contributes to this pattern of colonialism.

9. The Peanut Gallery

Did you know the phrase peanut gallery has racist origins?

It was the cheapest and worst part of the theater and the only option for Black attendees. No one wanted to sit in the peanut gallery and today no one wants to hear from the peanut gallery. #RewriteBHM #BHM pic.twitter.com/vwHHHWLeVP Nat'l Urban League @NatUrbanLeague February 13, 2018

Modern uses of the term the peanut gallery is in reference to a group of people who criticize or mocking another person. The historical roots of this term are much more racist and painful.
Originally this term means balconies in segregated theaters where black people were forced to sit. The nickname peanut was given due to the fact that peanuts were introduced to America at the same time as the slave trade. Because of this there was a connection between black people and peanuts.


10. Uppity

Kneeling to protest at games is tasteful yet effective. But white owners and racists think blacks are too uppity. 

Uppity Word used by racist old white Southerners to refer to any black person who looks them in the eye URBAN DICTIONARY pic.twitter.com/CrRQJqTyTl LJ Rochelle @lj_rochelle May 24, 2018
As of now the word uppity is often used as a synonym for stuck up or pretentious or conceited. But the roots of the word are far more specific and racist.

The word Uppity was used by Southerners to refer to slaves who did not fall into line or acted as if they didn't know their place. Sadly there are many more words and phrases I could add to this list. In the meantime hopefully this list is helpful for navigating the racism innate in our language.


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