Posted by: JDM..... | August 19, 2013

Race cards & discrimination (continued).….


Bastardization of the word “discrimination”

It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword, to which I would like to add that the mouth and the pen are often interchangeable. While nations tend to be brought to their knees by the sword, it is the one with a good pen and a big mouth, and who knows how to skillfully wield both, that puts people back on their feet and has them follow of their own volition.

Language, the process by which we put words together in order to communicate, has always been one of the primary tools of civilization, and like any tool, language has the potential to be used for constructive or destructive purposes.

Another tool crucial to the success and continued existence of human beings, both individually and as communities, would be the ability to differentiate between other people, places, and things that are most likely to enhance their odds of survival and those that are most likely to result in a premature and probably unpleasant demise.

While the people in question come and go, and environments change, as do things, the innate ability to assess such factors in one’s surroundings, to differentiate among the countless variations of each, and to make critical decisions accordingly, tends to be consistent over time and from one generation to the next.

Language, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to stay the same from one generation to the next, if that long. The essential structure of a language may endure for centuries, but the lexicon is a crap shoot, with established denizens of the lexicon fading into disuse and “newbies” taking their places with great regularity. To complicate matters, though a word, phrase, or idiom and so forth may stick around, its meaning or usage can change significantly and with little warning.

This keeps things interesting, for the most part, as each generation rolls its collective eyes at the conversational archaisms of their predecessors, and recoils at the abominations and foolishness spewed by their own descendants. Occasionally, however, things can get a bit dicey. Sometimes, our innate behaviors and our ever-changing language get in each other’s way. Shakespeare managed to exploit just such an opportunity, amusing or enraging his contemporaries to great personal gain, and bestowing upon future generations in perpetuity annoying freshman college courses. The language of his grandparents’ generation, still relatively youthful following its radical change from the Anglo Saxon syntax and vocabulary of the pre-Norman Old English Britain to the mongrelized but more widely understandable Middle English of his parents’ generation, was morphing again even as William was advancing from infantile babbling to intelligible sounds and simple real words. It was a timely collision of languages and cultures, and he used it well.

We seem to be experiencing another collision of language and culture during our current era, and though a far cry from the scale of the aforementioned example, it is creating challenges and conflicts worth mentioning.

Discrimination becomes a dirty word

As I mentioned earlier, human beings have an innate ability to observe, assess, differentiate, and decide, which has a great deal to do with why I am here to observe, assess, differentiate, and decide to prattle on about it today. Someone even came up with a word for it about four hundred years ago: to “discriminate”.

It was a nice word. Given a shove in a different direction by the Civil War and events ensuing from the outcome of that conflict however, “discrimination” began to take on additional references. By the time of the early twenty first century, and with the changes in American society and culture brought about by the Civil Rights Movement of a half century earlier, it was no longer a “nice word”. Interestingly, “discrimination” still retained its original and traditional meanings as well, so it was neither an archaism nor a brand new word. So far, nobody has been able to follow Shakespeare’s lead and turn that into something funny, though quite a few have figured out how to make a pile of money from it.

A new meaning

It’s more a matter of degree and context than of a simple thumbs up or thumbs down ruling. Most today are acutely aware of the numerous issues, conflicts, and blank looks of confusion emanating from the topic of “race” and just about everything related to it. Part one of Race cards & discrimination.…. addressed that issue, the word itself, and more, so I will try to focus on our present day miscommunication and the misappropriation of the wobbly vocabulary by some individuals and groups that may ironically be serving to perpetuate the very thing they supposedly want to eliminate.

The word discrimination has experienced a significant shift over the last century and a half or so, to the point that any present day attempt to use it in its earlier sense, to describe the act of differentiating among or between separate qualities, requires prefacing and follow-up explanation, not to mention the occasional use of martial arts. As is usually the case when words are put out to pasture with extreme prejudice (another banished term), most folks find the effort more trouble than it’s worth and just find another way to express the idea in question. Roget’s Thesaurus, I sometimes imagine, must surely be the graveyard of disenfranchised words.

Adopted by the sub-culture of “Political Correctness” as that group’s exclusive property, the word discrimination is now generally understood to describe the unfair treatment of a person of African heritage by a person NOT of African heritage, or some variation thereof. It has no neutral or positive definitions in this context. The move has proved so effective that numerous other populations established ad hoc Blue Ribbon Commissions to look into the viability of jumping on that particular bandwagon themselves. It was, and they have.

Manifestation of exclusivity

During the face-off between the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons of yore (archaism), the “Politically Correct” with French sounding names could eat Pork while the rest (non-Politically Correct) had to choke down Swine, but if either borrowed from the other he was chastised or disemboweled by his peers. Similarly, the emerging New African Americans, who, other than for minor features such as pigmentation, are generally indistinguishable from their Old European American neighbors, seem to have rights to Exclusivity of Use of certain words and phrases. The most obvious example, of course, would be in regard to that most universally reviled of mutant latter day terms of once common usage, the word “nigger”.

A comedian of African heritage can prolifically spew the “N-word” on stage, much as the late George Carlin once shocked the world with his Seven Dirty Words, and put the audience in the aisles. I, being of “W.A.S.P.” descent (“White Anglo-Saxon Protestant”), could do the same thing, of course, and the audience would also end up in the aisles …..but instead of laughing, they’d preparing the tar and feathers, or loading weapons, or calling lawyers.

There’s a fine line between funny and oh crap, but generally speaking proper use of the improper word apparently requires that it be spelled “nigga”, and of course, context is everything, meaning folks like me would be well advised to shut up and never admit to having read anything by Mark Twain.

We of Anglo Saxon heritage need to realize that some folks get to dine on “boeuf”, while the rest stick to less controversial “flæscmete”. It is what it is. But, just for my own clarification, I think I’ll not get into the middle of it…. I’ll call my damned “steak” whatever the heck I want, but if I should find myself on stage or, shall we say “out of my socio-anthropological context”, perhaps I’ll just say I’m a vegetarian and call it good.

I’m sure humanity will survive our brief contributions to the continuum. The species has survived far worse dramas, incorporated the roadkill as food for thought, and moved on. I am grateful for the improvements that have been made thus far during my lifetime, even though the shenanigans of some from both camps have been over the top. I just would prefer that the word discrimination, and all of its associated linguistic lampreys such as racism and profiling and the like, would lose their value as hall passes to Special Consideration and rejoin the vocabulary of Everyman.

Perhaps that is the next phase, the next chapter. But for that to happen, government, which theoretically represents all 315+ million of us, must not only stop rewarding the malingering and exploitation by the few (isn’t that where this all started anyway?) at the expense of all, but government must also be removed from the VIP Box Seats and sent back to the Staff Break Room where it belongs. The people will work out some sort of a balance themselves without being micromanaged and ordered to march in step, but it’s not likely to be in the form of some static text book mandate that won’t stand the tests of time and human nature anyway.

Additionally, I strongly suspect we ALL will continue to observe our surroundings, assess, differentiate among the countless variations of factors, and to make critical decisions accordingly that we will sense are to our individual and group benefits. You know ….discriminate ….profile …stuff like that, though most of that behavior is done on automatic pilot and in a flash.

I know I plan to do so, at least for now and until a better idea comes along.


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  1. Right on, Jeff.

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