White Comedy and the Prejudice of Language

Inequalities buried deep

'Oiseaux de Moebius' by M C Escher, 1956

Most people bristle at being told that they have a subconscious prejudice, but we’re all a little bit racist.

A couple of months ago I wrote about how deliberately or accidentally obscuring or flipping the attirbution of a quote can reveal our own (or others’) biases. Related: @Eastmad recently guided me to a poem by Benjamin Zephaniah, ‘White Comedy’, that elegantly reveals the way our language is stacked against people of colour.

I waz whitemailed
By a white witch

Read the whole poem on Zephaniah’s website, and see your subconscious prejudices revealed.

This is an excuse to post a link to the glorious ‘Person Paper on Purity in Language’ by Douglas R. Hofstadter.

The negrists claim that using the word “white,” either on its own or as a component, to talk about all the members of the human species is somehow degrading to blacks and reinforces racism. Therefore the libbers propose that we substitute “person” everywhere where “white” now occurs. Sensitive speakers of our secretary tongue of course find this preposterous.

It makes for confusing and then uncomfortable reading until you realise what Hofstadter is doing… at which point it is revelatory. It is one of my favourite pieces of writing, one that made me finally understand how deep the inequalities are buried into our supposedly ‘liberal’ culture.

1 thought on “White Comedy and the Prejudice of Language”

  1. Lots of food for thought here, Rob. Love reading your bogs, usually a bit of a work out for my aging brain !!

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