Also see: Michael Coard archive on The Philly Post

< Return to Michael Coard Writes

Are You - or Your Language - Racist or Not Racist?



Racism is not just lynching, cross-burning, redlining, employment discrimination, educational barriers, or even malicious slurs. It’s actually “a belief that race (basically meaning skin color) is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular” group. This belief can be manifested consciously and actively or unconsciously and passively. Those who manifest the conscious and active form are the Rush Limbaughs, the Governor Jan Brewers, the Glenn Becks, the Bill O’Reillys, the Pat Buchannans, and the Clarence Thomases (did he say Clarence Thomas?), and their klan-minded species. But those who manifest the unconscious and passive form are not so easily identifiable. And that’s because, generally speaking, they’re mostly good people. Yes, they are white. And yes, they reap the benefits of white privilege. And yes, for the most part, they prefer to- and almost always do- live, work, socialize, and worship primarily with other white folks. But they’re still kinda cool. Well, at least until their unconscious and passive racism slips from inside their heads to outside their mouths.


This type of racism is defined as “beliefs, attitudes, and actions that contribute to the maintenance of racism, without openly advocating oppression or discrimination.” And it’s frequently expresed in words, words that unintentionally but effectively promote racism. Here are some leading examples. You tell me- racist or not racist?            


African warlord- A warlord is a heartless military leader who engages in the widespread murderous brutality of non-combatant citizens and “hold(s) territory locally and, at the same time, act(s) financially and politically in the international system without interference from the state in which he is based.” So how come (white) American President Andrew “Trail of Tears” Jackson is never referred to as a warlord?

Angel food cake/Devil’s food cake- Why is one white and the other black?

Anti-Semitic- Since the Palestinians live in the Semitic region, speak a Semitic language, and practice a Semitic religion, why aren’t discriminatory epithets and conduct directed against them referred to as anti-Semitic? 

Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, Golden State Warriors, Kansas City Chiefs, and Washington Redskins- Would any American with European ancestry think it was OK to refer to his/her own culture-proud people as meaningless mascots, plastic playthings, and freakish frivolities?

Bad juju- This is a disparaging term created by white foreigners to describe the purported supernatural activity involved in indigenous West African spirituality. By the way, what do you imagine that the West Africans think about walking on water or coming back from the dead or being born from immaculate conception?    

Blackball, black-hearted, blackmail, blacklist, black market, black ops, black sheep, black hat/white hat, white lie- Need I say more? 

Chinaman- If you think it’s a word to accurately refer to a Chinese adult male, then you suffered  from intellectual arrested development (if you ever had any intellect to begin with) during the very same time that the word was popularized more than a century and a half ago during the gold rush and railway construction era in California.   

Chinaman’s chance- It means very little likelihood of success. And if you use the term, it means you have very little likelihood of brain activity. 

Chinese fire drill- It’s used to describe a frenzied or chaotic situation. The phrase originated in the 17th century during early contacts with Westerners who bigotedly concluded that the Chinese language (apparently unlike illogical and inconsistent English grammar, pronunciation, and spelling) was incomprehensible, the population endless, the country cramped, and the people confusedly busy.

Chink in the armor- Chink is an archaic word meaning a slit, fissure, or weak spot leading to vulnerability. Many Americans who felt that their jobs in the early 20th century were being threatened by Asians generally and Chinese people specifically decided it would be both funny and insulting to describe Asian eyes as slit-like or slanted. But might the reality, based on how many Asians and how few Americans lived on the planet and which group was therefore the rule and which the exception, have been that round eyes were really funny-looking?   

Dreadlocks- I can personally swear on a stack of holy books that there’s clearly nothing dreadful about long, flowing, stylish- i.e., absolutely beautiful- locks. And I’m being completely objective. Aren’t I?

Eskimo- The indigenous people of the land now called Alaska are not “snow eaters” or “raw meat eaters” or “snowshoe netters” or “foreign language speakers” which (depending on the expert you ask) is what Eskimo means. Regardless of the definition you accept, everyone agrees that Eskimo is pejorative. The proper word is Inuit.

Flesh colored band aids- What? Blacks and Latinos don’t have flesh?

Good hair- It technically means healthy hair. So how did the term become synonymous with white folks’ hair? And since when did comb-overs become the picture of follicle health? And when was the last time you saw an Afro combed-over?

Gypsy-  The Roma or Romani people who trace their roots primarily to central and eastern Europe and, before that, purportedly to Egypt, from which the word “gyp” comes. Because many of these different looking and different speaking Roma or Romani people migrated frequently and, in order to survive, cultivated a lifestyle of buying and selling goods from and to the foreigners they often encountered, there sometimes subsequently were business disputes that ultimately led to stereotyping them as con artists, hence the word “gyp” has become synonymous with “cheat.”   

Hip! Hip! Hurray! (actually Hurrah!) It’s based on a notarica from the first letters of “Hierosolyma Est Per ‘dita,” which is what German knights yelled to mean “Jerusalem is destroyed” during their so-called “Jew hunts” in the Middle Ages. You think maybe you should come up with a new celebratory cheer now?

Illegal immigrant- An immigrant is a human being. And a human being cannot be illegal. Ipso facto, there’s no such thing as an illegal immigrant. But what about the white settlers who invaded the red people’s land, killed many of them, forcibly relocated the survivors, and took their land at gunpoint? And didn’t Americans rob Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah, as well as parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming from Mexico? Well, I guess you should forget all that shit I just said about no illegal immigrants.

Indian- Columbus was an incompetent sailor who thought he was traveling east when he was really traveling west. And when he arrived here, he arrogantly started calling the indigenous people Indians because he thought he was in India. Unfortunately for the inhabitants, he was much better at genocide than he was at navigation.

Indian giver- It means to take back what you gave. If this is not the epitome of what psychologists call “projection,” then nothing is.

Indian Summer- It’s the term for misleadingly warm weather during the fall and especially winter months, similar to the misleading- and deceitful- nature of the so-called savage Indian. That’s not cool- or warm either!

Native Americans- Red men, women, and children were here long before America existed. Calling them “Native Americans” is like calling Earthlings “Native New Martians” after the little green creatures with ray-guns conquer this planet.

On the warpath- If this is meant to refer to the white settlers who robbed, raped, pillaged, and murdered, then it’s a historically precise phrase. But if it’s meant to refer to red people who fought unsuccessfully to try to save their families and homes, then it’s racist bullshit.

Oriental- Why is it that Europeans believe the world (and even the universe) revolves around them as the center of everything. Oriental means eastern, thereby identifying Asian countries in terms of their location relative to Europe. And please don’t get me on the warpath about Egypt (aka Kemet). It’s not in the Middle East, dammit. It’s in North Africa, dammit.

Paddy wagon-  It supposedly refers to large police vehicles that were needed to transport the large number of stereotypically intoxicated Irish folks, i.e., Patricks (as in St. Patricks), Pattys, or Paddys (originally called Padraig in the Gaelic languages). However, there’s an opposing argument about the term, one that says it’s commendation not condemnation. It states that at the time when the phrase became popular, many policemen were Irish and those Irish cops drove police vans called paddy wagon. You decide, but only if you’re Irish because only Irish are allowed.

Russian roulette- John Bushnell, a Northwestern University
professor of Russian history, found no evidence whatsoever that Russian soldiers or any other Russians invented or even popularized this psychotic game of suicide.  

Voodoo economics- This is Ronald Reagan’s derogatory “anti-Haitian culture” term for supply-side economics, in other words, something based on unreal and impractical concepts, like spooky supernaturalism. See bad juju above, particularly the part about walking on water and coming back from the dead and being born from immaculate conception. Nothing unreal or impractical or spooky or supernatural about any of that. Of course not.   


So there you have it. Now you’ll know if you’re racist or not. But here’s the easy way to be sure. If you agree with me, you’re not. If you don’t, you are.