Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Language of Racism: Today's word is "terrorist"

Something strange has happened since 2001. I first noticed it in my own family, in their quiet racism where they gather and feel safe among other white people and spout hateful things about an entire group of people. This strange thing is that the word "terrorist" became associated with a race, a certain scary kind of brown people that made white people freak out. I am not trying to explain away what happened at 9/11, but pinning the crimes of a few people on not only an entire nation, but an entire people who have similar skin-tones is racist.

Anyway, my point in this post is that there is a certain denotation for the word "terrorist" but the connotations mean that Americans associate a label that can apply to anyone who uses fear and violence to achieve an end. But it's become completely associated with people from the Middle-East. If not, why is this headline so surprising: "FBI's newest 'Most Wanted' terrorist is American."

In the last few years, "terrorist" has become synonymous with "Islam," and so this most viewed story from Yahoo is surprising to many people. Americans terrorists?? How can that be?

Well, our definition of "terrorist" has become entangled in our racism despite terrorist acts being committed quite often in our own border. Why don't we call people who bomb abortion clinics terrorists? Don't they use threats, fear, and violence to coerce people? There's a long history of attacks on abortion clinics, but not one use of the word "terrorist." Why is that? What about all the other acts of violence happening here? Is "terrorist" just another "other" word?

I think how we use language is important and being aware of its use is imperative in how we relate to one another. Share your thoughts in the comments.