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Culturally Sensitive Language

HCRL's picture

Over the past few days, I have had a few conversations that have made me wonder about racial sensitivity in the Bi-Co. First, I was at dinner with friends, when one of them used the word gypped, as in he gypped me out of something. I let my friend know that the word shouldn’t be used, as it comes from the word Gypsy, and is thus obviously pretty offensive. She did not realize where the word came from, and was happy to have been informed of such. Another person at the table said that it was similar to the word jewed, but that jewed was more offensive, particularly in the Bi-Co, because there are more people who identify as Jewish than Gypsy. I was happy that we had this conversation, and it raised for me the question of why language is so important. Is it to avoid offending specific people who hear the word, or is it to create a general culture of respect through respectful language?


Later that day I had Ultimate practice, and at the end of practice we always cheer together. The Ultimate team is full of women who are really socially conscious, and heavily involved in various social justice initiatives. We have a long collection of cheers that have been built up over the past 20 years, so I have no idea where most of them came from. As we clumped together, one person requested that we cheer “Spumone,” as in the kind of Italian ice cream. This cheer is meant to be done in an Italian accent, with hands up like this picture ( As we were about to do it, I passively asked the team if they thought the cheer was offensive, and jokingly mentioned that they should enjoy it because it might be the last time we do that cheer. This group would never do such a cheer in a stereotypically “African-American ghetto” accent, so I am curious as to why this cheer has been passed on for so many years. This event further made me wonder about using culturally sensitive words, where the line is drawn about making fun of other cultures maliciously versus with a harmless intent (such as what I believe this was), and if making fun should ever be permitted. Additionally, it made me think about the impact of the group that is being made fun of/imitated/offended has on the use and understanding of words. I am unsure if this is a cheer we need to get rid of.


akelly's picture

Hey Romi, this is an interesting question that I have thought about this as well. For example why is it acceptable to put on a super thick Italian accent and use crazy hand gestures, yet imitating a Chinese accent would definitely be frowned upon. Is it because it is generally allowed to make fun of a group if they haven't dealt with as much adverstiy, but if they had to deal with oppression it's not okay? That's the explanation I have come up with, but then if one is allowed and the other isn't, then isn't it still highlighting tghe group as different, as outsiders? 

MiriamPerez's picture

Annie and Romi-

I totally agree! I also wonder if it has something to do with whiteness. Italians have been brought into the fold of "White America" even though at the turn of the 20th century they weren't thought of as either white or American. People also make fun of "rednecks" and white girls, who both belong to "White America" but in those cases I also think some of the imitations are classism and sexism.