Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Mind Your Mouth

Author Lawrence Hill was shaking his head recently when a person of colour in The Netherlands symbolically burned his novel The Book of Negroes because it used the word negro. The idea was that this is an offensive word, akin to the other N word and so should be vigorously protested. In response Hill, who is himself a person of colour, pointed out that his late father, a human rights activist, proudly described himself as a negro through most of his life. http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/1012068--what-lawrence-hill-tells-dutch-group-planning-to-burn-his-book?bn=1

We know that Martin Luther King Jr. the Baptist pastor and driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement in the US used the term negro. And Hill's Book of Negroes is based on the historical Book of Negroes.

Some folk get earnestly goofy at times about titles and names and euphemisms which change with the times, only to become offensive or questionable to the next generation. As I once mentioned in this blog, my older daughter scolded me for using the term "retarded" a few years ago. For her it was quite offensive even though I pointed out to her that I wasn't using it in a derogatory way and that it was the common term for developmentally challenged individuals during my growing up years. Another time we were in a retro candy store and I pointed out what I called Afro-Canadian Infants. I knew better than to call them Black Babies.

Some terms change for the better, and some just change. Respect can come with changing language, and we should all mind our mouths, but equality goes much deeper than terms. The fellow in The Netherlands just doesn't get it, or so it seems to me. The Nazis burned books, so do we conclude that this guy is a Nazi? I don't think so?

You may have figured out from my less frequent blogs that I'm not in Bowmanville these days. I am actually in that part of Nova Scotia where The Book of Negroes central figure Aminata finds herself. It is a short drive to Shelburne and Birchtown, featured in the novel, and we will visit both communities.

What do you think about The Book of Negroes kerfuffle? What about our use of terms and titles generally?


IanD said...

In the words of the immortal Cher (sung in 1988 while sporting the nastiest outfit ever commited to film) ...

"Word are like weapons/they wound sometimes."

Insert power chords.

Laura said...

I find it has created hyper-senstivity in me so I find myself talking around these names out of my fear of offending someone.

I was reading something the other day that reminded me of these last two blogs, today's and yesterday's (Toronto Mayor Ford's decision to miss Pride Parade.)

The article talked of how much additional stress and conflict we create in our lives/world because we tend to interpret every line or silence, action or inaction,look or avoidance to mean something deeper, most often negative, and then we stew about it, make a mountain of a molehill, when in fact we have misinterpretted the event through our own personal lens and no malice was intended.

I realize public figures, statements,actions have to be carefully considered and respectful but I do think we read way too much into them at times.