November 26, 2012

Gates - Racial Slurs as tropes

Gates had some very interesting views on what actually constituted a race. He seemed to dismiss the idea that physical attributes are the only aspects that form a race. He actually furthered this idea by stating that is a gross misconception the call an African black and a European white. These color shades do not represent a skin tone; these color classifications become a trope and arguably the terms gain agency from repetition. The really interesting thing about his explanation of race is that he breaks down the historical and social aspects of the words used to describe races and how they have evolved over the years. 

The idea that the words “nigger” or “cracker” have no real signifier stems out of the idea of racial slurs and terms are tropes. When a person uses one of these words they are using the sign to signify racism as a concept as opposed to a race or an individual. The terms themselves become a signifier of the entire history of racial oppression. When a person calls an African black they are pushing all of the ideas and other terms that are attracted to the word black. A lot of the words that are attracted to racial slurs or racial classifications are negative stereotypes. These negative stereotypes become the signifier to the racial slurs. 

3 comments:

Cookie said...

It's interesting to think that such simple words that are usually used in our language can be so offensive. Obviously, I don't support any words that can offend or stereotype groups but besides of the obvious reasons why these words were chosen how do you think they've stuck around for so long? These are terms that have been used for years but people who don't even understand some of its origin. Is repetition just the simple tool that has helped expand words like black and cracker? It must be prt of it, especially since these words of gain popularity to still be pointed out in our media

Michelle Macchio said...

Once particular words are introduced into a language, they become associated with other words and ideas. While the words themselves are arbitrary, the way they are repeatedly used in language becomes customary. English as a cultural institution has dictated a supposedly "universal" set of ideas about the world at large, rather than one particular culture's ideas and ways of life. I think this approach to knowledge has a lot to do with why words such as "nigger" have stuck around for so long; tropes such as this are continuously referred to as indication of their difference from the majority ethnic group (White European). This difference is perceived negatively, a result of hierarchical domination on a global scale. Although we have progressed from the intolerance of earlier times, these tropes still remain and still point out differences (either as they are perceived or just acknowledged as social constructs).

Victoria said...

This is an interesting view on the use of racial slurs. Using racial slurs isn't about the individual, it's about a group of people. It reduces the individual to a singular people, or a concept of a people. Slurs like that are arranged to strip the name-bearer of a sense of self, almost. It also packs all of the preconceived notions of that term from history. The N-word's roots are based in the slave plantations. By using the word, the name-caller is bringing up that history. Perhaps propping it up as "proof". It is also setting up the name-caller as different; as above this classification they have reduced the other person to.

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