5 commonly used words still fuelling systemic racism

You’re probably using them too and it’s not the n-word.

1950 North Carolina, USA (Photo by Elliot Erwitt)
  • Childish Gambino said it with “This is America” in 2018
  • Beyoncé said it with “Formation” in 2016
  • Wyclef Jean said it with “Diallo” in 2000
  • Michael Jackson said it with “They don’t really care about us” in 1995
  • Rage Against the Machine said it with “Killing in the Name” in 1991
  • N.W.A. said it with “Fuck the police” in 1988
  • The Clash said it with “Know your rights” in 1982
  • Marvin Gaye said it with “What’s going on” in 1971
  • Billie Holiday said it with “Strange Fruit” in 1939
  • And the list goes on. . .
African American demonstrators outside the White House, with signs “We demand the right to vote, everywhere” and signs protesting police brutality against civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama. Negative by Warren K. Leffler, 1965. Prints & Photographs Division. Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” — Dr. Wayne Dyer.

First, it’s important to really see the problem for what it is because you cannot solve a problem you cannot see. So, how do you really see the problem? Perhaps, start with the words you use. It has come to my attention that the words we use keeps us from seeing the real problem : systemic racism.

  • What you think of, will affect your words.
  • What you say will affect your actions.
  • How you act will have tangible consequences in your life and the lives of people around you.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Choose your words wisely

When you hear or read a word, it immediately creates an image in your mind, triggers an emotion and reinforces a belief. That belief will cause you to automatically act and react in a certain way and your actions will affect the people you’re with, as well as your environment.

  • visible minority
  • BIPOC
  • fair skinned
  • caucasian

1. White Supremacy

Illustration by MJ

Instead of “White Supremacist” use “White Terrorist”

Using the word terrorist is more accurate. A terrorist is defined as “a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” In this case it’s a white person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against people of colour, in the pursuit of their “political” aims.

Hiram Wesley Evans, Grand Wizard of the KKK at the Ku Klux Klan parade, 9/13/26 . National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)
Hiram Wesley Evans, Grand Wizard of the KKK at the Ku Klux Klan parade, 9/13/26 . National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)

2. Visible Minority

Photo by Daniel Reche from Pexels

Instead of “visible minority” just say “non-white” or “not-white”

It’s more honest and it will allow you to really see the segregation still present today and sheds more light on the belief surrounding the “need” for that term in the first place. Instead of putting everyone else in a box calling them a minority because of the colour of their skin, you’re showing the implied separation between whites and non-whites.

3. BIPOC

Photo by RF._.studio on Pexel

Instead of “BIPOC” say “non-white” or “not-white”

How does that make you feel? It feels different than BIPOC doesn’t it? But it means the same thing, the only difference is that one is honest, the other is camouflaging the issue.

4. Fair Skin

Recent controversial Dove Commercial
PEARS SOAP (Illustrated London News, 1880).

Instead of “fair skin” use “light skin”

When you use terms like “fair skin” you perpetuate the problem subconsciously feeding the narrative over and over again : White is better or lighter is more beautiful. And it’s still use in makeup description today.

Foundation selection via Pinterest
Rawpixel.com royalty free image
Rawpixel.com royalty free image

5. Caucasian

Where does that word even come from? It is said that a German anatomist named Johann Blumenbach visited the Caucasus Mountains, located between the Caspian and Black seas, and he must have been enchanted because he labeled the people there “Caucasians” and proposed that they were created in God’s image as an ideal form of humanity.

Instead of “caucasian” use “European-American” or “white”.

Ever wonder why you rarely, if ever, hear the term European-American? But you certainly heard African-American, Asian-American and even Native-American despite the fact that they technically are the only one who should be called Americans since they are native of America.

Image by Joshua Miranda from Pixabay

Words have power.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. These 5 terms — white supremacy, visible minority, BIPOC, fair skinned and caucasian — reinforce similar racist ideologies : that white people are better than any other ethnic groups and should be separate from them.

“He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured” — African Proverb

Are the words you’re using contributing to eradicate systemic racism or contributing to preserve it ?

Toronto-based artist. Professional dreamer. www.mariejudith.com

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