15 April 2011

Racial epithets

There has been an interesting discussion on the English usage newsgroup alt.usage.english recently. It started with someone asking whether African-Americans should be referred to as "Black" or "black" (with or without a capital "b".

I kept out of it at that stage, because I'm not American and certainly not a fundi on American usage.

But then it broadened, as these things inevitably do, and some people were asking about racial and ethnic terms in South Africa, and one person said he thought that Hindus in South Africa were called "black". And someone else said that the apartheid terminology was "Indians".

Well, no. "Indians" was the pre-apartheid terminology, and it was applied to Hindus and Muslims indiscriminately if they or their ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent, which is now divided into India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

One of the first acts of the apartheid government was to pass the Population Registration Act of 1950, which required that everyone have their population group registered, and this was done in the population census of 1951. Everyone was given a race (or population group) classification, which was one of Asiatic, Bantu, Coloured or White (all with capital letters, because they were official). Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis etc were all lumped together under "Asiatic". In the 1970s the canons of political correctness were changed, and Asiatics became Asians, while Bantu became Blacks.

Then there was this snippet, with my reply:

>Apparently "brown" is now used to some degree to refer to
>Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S.

It is also used as a self-description by some former so-called "Coloureds" who are still so called in official documents in our so called "non-racial" democracy (scare quotes deliberate, indicating two-finger gestures with both hands in viva voce situations).
The Population Registration Act has been repealed, yet the same racial epithets continue to be used, though they are no longer defined. Apartheid may be dead, but it still rules from the grave, and its legacy lingers on.

1 comment:

James Higham said...

It's interesting that those so quick to shout "racist" are the ones so deeply interested in the shades of colour.


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