Reviews | Talking about race is tricky. Here’s a reason why.


Namely, the more common use of “discrimination” has narrowed semantically – in usage – regardless of what the facelessness of dictionary definitions, often written eons ago, might indicate.

This is also true of “cultural appropriation”. I find it almost poignant how much people reject the concept by saying that without it we wouldn’t have (South American) tomatoes or that the alphabetic writing system that emerged in Egypt wouldn’t have happened. not widespread in most countries of the world. , etc. But what these people lack is that this term is used in a semantically narrower way than what these objections apply to.

This refers to ownership by those at the top of those below, especially when it involved taking advantage in a way that the latter was not able to do.

If you think that just identifying these examples as semantic narrowing is a tad sterile, that it doesn’t capture the whole question, you are right. There is a certain understatement in the use of these terms.

For example, saying “diversity” and “discrimination” implies, even unintentionally, avoiding explaining why these policies, in practice, should primarily target dark-haired people. Part of you may not want to step into it – it’s too controversial, too little time ago, and just maybe you’re not always completely sure you can stand up for the fundamentals 100 percent. To use “diversity” to refer to the inclusion of dark-haired people, quietly sidestep an issue or possible dispute, with a tidy word replacing the explanation.

If I could wave a magic wand we would spend a year using terms like this less abbreviated. In 1954, if you were sliding your highball by referring only to “chauvinism,” someone might have asked you, “What kind? Because the word was not yet a shorthand for sexism only. Nowadays, imagine if it meant not “diversity” but “diversity of races ranging from white to brown”, but also “discrimination against browns” and “cultural appropriation of non-whites”.

It would be a bit awkward. But the conversations, even if no less animated, would at least approach the real nut of disagreement. The fantasy is that people are aware of how semantic narrowing works and, with terms that have started to undergo it, oppose the process and spell out the narrowed meaning instead of using the old version. As we use them now, many terms allow for unspoken ambiguity between their past and more current meanings. Imagine if it was impossible and you just needed to be clearer? And I mean beyond the harsh punches on the narrow question of what critical race theory is – though these fights are so mean in part because terms like ‘diversity’ and ‘discrimination’ can hinder understanding.

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