For decades, overt racism has been readily identifiable through racial slurs, hate crimes, and blatant acts like burning crosses or painting swastikas. However, my exploration into antiracism has revealed nuances in language that I was previously unaware of.

Ibram X. Kendi, in his book “How to Be an Antiracist,” defines an antiracist as someone actively supporting antiracist policies and expressing antiracist ideas. He distinguishes racist ideas, which suggest the superiority or inferiority of racial groups, from antiracist ideas, emphasizing equality among racial groups and attributing racial inequities to racist policies.

Being antiracist requires acknowledging how language shapes racist beliefs. While some inherently racist terms were already recognized, my awareness expanded to include seemingly innocuous phrases with hidden racist origins.

In a CNN article from July 2020, terms like “master bedroom,” “blacklist,” “whitelist,” and “sold down the river” were highlighted for their racist connotations. Language evolves, and efforts have been made to replace terms like “blacklist” with more inclusive alternatives like “denylist.”

Examining phrases like “cakewalk” and “cotton picking” unveils their roots in racist history. “Cakewalk,” originating from enslaved individuals ridiculing their oppressors, has transformed into a term for easy tasks, yet it carries a dark history of minstrel shows. “Cotton picking,” once a seemingly innocent expression, reveals racial overtones tied to the painful history of southern Black slaves.

Terms like “crack the whip” and “whip-cracker” may have disputed origins, but they are undeniably associated with the brutality of chattel slavery. Similarly, “freeholder” traces back to a time when only white men could own land.

The term “gypped” perpetuates stereotypes about the Romani people, while “jimmies” may have racially charged origins related to the Jim Crow laws.

Expressions like “long time, no see” and “no can do” were used to stereotype Native American and non-native English speakers. Even seemingly harmless phrases like “low hanging fruit” have the potential to trigger traumatic associations for individuals with a history linked to lynching.

Terms like “off the reservation” and “paddy wagon” reflect historical prejudices against Native Americans and Irish immigrants, respectively. “Peanut gallery” originated from vaudeville theaters where the cheapest seats were occupied by Black and poor individuals.

Common idioms like “pot calling the kettle black” have been scrutinized for negative connotations associated with the colour black. While the term “slave” itself is not inherently racist, acknowledging individuals as “enslaved persons” empowers their agency.

“Grandfathered in” and “grandfather clause” reveal their roots in disenfranchising Black voters after the 15th Amendment.

The phrase “tipping point” has connections to white flight in the 1950s, while “uppity” perpetuates racist stereotypes against Black individuals.

The term “urban,” once innocently used to describe metropolitan areas, has been reevaluated in the context of racialized spaces.

Slurs like “wetback” or “mojado” demonstrate derogatory language against immigrants, with a history rooted in discrimination.

Striving to be antiracist involves recognizing and eliminating language that perpetuates bias, systemic racism, and micro-aggressions. This commitment requires choosing inclusive language that fosters a sense of belonging for everyone, regardless of their identity. By understanding the origins of language, we can actively contribute to a more equitable and just society.