|from the 11th Hour|
Sometimes, it was a bit much. Most of the time, however, it helped me think very deeply about how my choice of language can sometimes reinforce imagery, ideas, and ideologies that I'm not interested in reinforcing.
I found myself channeling Glenda this week. A friend of mine tweeted that we have more serious problems in this world when we can't call a spade a spade. I said we have more serious problems in this world when we forget that a spade isn't always a shovel. Unless of course you actually are referring to a shovel.
How did this phrase come to have racist meanings? First a word about where the phrase actually came from.
Apparently this phrase harkens back to ancient Greece. It didn't have racist undertones then. The phrase started out in Aristophanes' play "The Clouds." In that play was the line "to call a fig a fig, a trough a trough." The suggestion here was to speak plainly and frankly. As the ancient Greek has been translated from one language to another there was some confusion in the meaning of the words. Trough was eventually translated into spade (meaning a shovel).
What about the word spade. Can it be racist?
Apparently it can. The word got its racist meaning in United States. It seems that in the 1920s the spade on a playing card (which also has nothing to do with people) became a term for Black people in the United States. The term stuck. It's unclear to me exactly how and why that happened. It did however. Take a peek at the following two images found with a simple Google search.
|Race Card II|
Words and phrases grow and evolve. Here in the United States the racist meanings of the word spade have become intertwined with the idiom "let's call a spade a spade." While the phrase isn't likely to be commonly used with racist intentions, I don't think we can escape the other racist meanings of the word spade. The imagery of the word can quickly telegraph intentional (or unintentional) racist beliefs.
It's not worth it for me. Words matter to me. Within the imagery and complicated meanings of words, we find our self of identity. Within and through the words, we create our understandings of the world. I choose hard to pick words and phrases that don't replicate racism.
I hope you choose to do the same.