Language and Race/Ethnicity
“A superficial examination of Roget’s Thesaurus of the English Language reveals the following facts; the word WHITENESS has 134 synonyms; 44 of which are favorable and pleasing to contemplate, i.e. purity, cleanness, immaculateness, bright, shining, ivory, fair, blonde, stainless, clean, clear, chaste, unblemished, unsullied, innocent, honorable, upright, just, straight-forward, fair, genuine, trustworthy, (a white man- colloquialism). Only ten synonyms for WHITENESS appear to me have negative implications—and these only in the mildest sense: gloss over, whitewash, gray, wan, pale, ashen, etc.
The word BLACKNESS has 120 synonyms, 60 of which are distinctly unfavorable, and none of them even mildly positive. Among the offending 60 were such words as: blot, blotch, smut, smudge, sully, begrime, soot, becloud, obscure, dingy, murky, low-toned, threatening, frowning, foreboding, forbidden, sinister, baneful, dismal, thundery, evil, wicked, malignant, deadly, unclean, dirty, unwashed, foul, etc…..not to mention 20 synonyms directly related to race, such as: Negro, Negress, nigger, darky, blackamoor, etc.
When you consider the fact that thinking itself is sub-vocal speech—in other words, one must use words in order to think at all—you will appreciate the enormous heritage of racial prejudgement that lies in wait for any child born into the English Language. Any teacher good or bad, white or black, Jew or Gentile, who uses the English Language as a medium of communication is forced, willy-nilly, to teach the Negro child 60 ways to despise himself, and the white child 60 ways to aid and abet him in the crime.
Who speaks to me in my Mother Tongue damns me indeed!…the English Language—in which I cannot conceive myself…my enemy, with which to survive at all I must continually be at war.”
— Ossie Davis, The English Language is My Enemy