You will likely be surprised about some of the words and phrases being on a list of racist language. I certainly was. But that is a problem. Racist language being so normalized that it becomes everyday language is an example of oppression. Consider the following…

It’s important that when you hear oppressive language that you explain why it is offensive and continuing oppression. It’s a form of verbal violence that exposes someone’s privileged view of the world. When people use this kind of language, they aren’t just harming an individual, but contributing to a history of subjugation and oppression that has spanned generations. Every struggle of a marginalized group has a history, a background of accepted and overt discrimination and violence. By using oppressive language, people are adding to that collective experience” (

Oppressive words are so ingrained into our everyday conversational language that often we don’t even know that we are saying hurtful, stigmatizing, degrading words or expressing prejudice. Kids especially may have no idea they are saying something hurtful but letting them know could help them be more aware of how they are affecting people around them. And here’s good news, challenging kids (and yourself) to find alternate words and expressions builds vocabulary and strengthens ability to articulate! And that is bound to have a positive effect in their lives, likely in school and later in business.

But back to the original point….

Following is some helpful insight about oppressive and defamatory language regarding race.

Adeshina Emmanual exposes the racist history of common words and phrases including:

  • Thug, Gypsy and Gyp, Grandfather Clause, No Can Do, Welfare Queen, Sold Down the River, Shuck and Jive, Uppity, Peanut Gallery, Long Time No See

Zoe Triska gives insight to the racist denotations of the following words and phrases:

  • Gyp, Ghetto, Chinese Whispers, Irish Goodbye, Sold Down the River, Peanut Galleries, Uppity, Hip Hip Hooray, Call a Spade a Spade

Photo by Fibonacci Blue/flickr

I had previously learned about the history of several of these examples, but a few really surprised me: hip hip hooray, long time no see, no can do. But I assure you, no longer will you hear these from me.


I leave you with someone who can articulate far better than I…

“Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek — it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language — all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.” ~ Toni Morrison, from her acceptance speech for the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature.



Please don’t teach your kids these words and phrases.
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