18 October 2009

Etymology and ickyness

When talking about white privilege it's pretty hard not to talk about the people who don't have it. My reading of blogs suggests that in the beginning, that was black people. But it was pretty quickly worked out that there are a whole lot of people who aren't black, but don't have white privilege. So the term PoC (people of colour) was born.

Now, one geographic group which I have had a lot of connections to are people from the Middle East*; in particular Persian people. Now, they comfortably call themselves Asian, because, logically, they come from Asia (challenging the standard Aussie reading of the term Asian to mean East Asian), But they also very strongly identify as Aryan. That is where the name Iran comes from - land of the Aryans. Many of the Persian people I have met look no different to Southern Europeans; many are fair, some are blonde, some are dark, yet all are discriminated against for being from the Middle East. They are Aryan, they don't consider themselves to be People of Colour. They do not fit comfortable into a theory which was made for a specific set of circumstances and then enlarged into a one size fits all theory which forces them into an identity they don't quite share. And yet there is a whole level of privilege they don't share with me, one that I examined intensely well over a decade before I read the term PoC.

I'll use that term while talking about privilege on American blogs, but I'll say here that something about it grates on me. And to be honest the terms back and white grate on me as much as the term PoC. I think it grates because they are short hand words, which are by nature reductionist. And they are unwieldy. Most of the situations in my life where I am talking about racism and privilege I am talking specifics, not generalisations, so it's easy to avoid them. But lately on the blogsphere I have caught myself using them and I wince. I am using them out of their cultural context, America, often to comment on some aspect of white privilege that affects both our countries that has been written about by Americans. Maybe if I was talking about some specific aspects of privilege in Australia I would use the words blackfellas and whitefellas, but to be honest as a woman those terms sometimes grate as well.

Language, I love it. I love the etymology of words. I love using it precisely and I love playing with it. I love learning about it. I love thinking about it. But I hate the icky feeling I get when I know I'm not using it well to express what I mean.


*Speaking of words that grate, this Colonial term is one that grates like nails on a blackboard.

1 comment:

Stinkypaw said...

I hate that feeling too, especially that I find myself looking for words to convey what I want to say, both in French and English.