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10 common phrases that are actually racist AF

All language has a history.

10 common phrases that are actually racist AF




As much as we'd like to pretend every phrase we utter is a lone star suspended in the space of our own genius, all language has a history. Unfortunately, given humanity's aptitude for treating each other like shit, etymology is fraught with reminders of our very racist world.

Since I have faith that most of you reading want to navigate the world with intelligence and empathy, I figured it'd be useful to share some of the everyday phrases rooted in racist etymology.

Knowledge is power, and the way we use and contextualize our words can make a huge difference in the atmospheres we create.


1. Thug

According to Meriam-Webster's dictionary definition, a thug is "a violent criminal." Obviously, this definition leaves the word open to define people of all ethnicities.

However, given the frequent ways this word has been used to describe Black Lives Matter protesters, the 17-year-old murder victim Trayvon Martin, and sadly, almost every black victim of police brutality — there is an undeniable racial charge to the word.

When you consider the people who are called thugs — groups of black protesters, victims of racist violence, teenagers minding their own business, and flip the racial element, you'd be hard-pressed to find examples of white people being called thugs in earnest by the media (or really by anyone).

Several prominent activists and black writers have written about the phenomenon of thug replacing the n-word in modern culture. In a popular press conference back in 2014, the Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman explained his feelings about the word.

"The reason it bothers me is because it seems like it's an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word now. It's like everybody else said the N-word and then they say 'thug' and that's fine. It kind of takes me aback and it's kind of disappointing because they know," Sherman said.

If you're talking about an actual criminal, there are so many descriptive words to invoke besides "thug." Given its current use as a negative, racially-coded word, avoiding its use seems like an easy and obvious move.

2. Grandfather Clause

When most of us hear the term "grandfather clause" we just think of the generalized description: a person or entity that is allowed to continue operating over now expired rules. But the literal meaning reveals the "grandfather clause" was a racist post-Reconstruction political strategy.

This is the historical definition, according to Encyclopedia Britannica:

"Grandfather clause, statutory or constitutional device enacted by seven Southern states between 1895 and 1910 to deny suffrage to African Americans. It provided that those who had enjoyed the right to vote prior to 1866 or 1867, or their lineal descendants, would be exempt from educational, property, or tax requirements for voting. Because the former slaves had not been granted the franchise until the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, those clauses worked effectively to exclude black people from the vote but assured the franchise to many impoverished and illiterate whites."

In modern speak, this basically meant the Grandfather Clause let white people off the hook for new voting requirements because their ancestors were already registered voters. Meanwhile, black people were required to fill out impossible literacy tests and pay exorbitant poll taxes to vote. This in turn, meant many black people were unable to vote, while white people weren't held to the same standard.

3. Gypsy or "Gyp"

The word "Gypsy" was (and is) a racial slur referring to the Roma people. The Roma people are descendants of Northern India who, due to severe marginalization and threats of violence by others, lived a nomadic lifestyle of forced migration for centuries.

During a fraught history, Roma people were taken as slaves in Romania and were targeted for genocide by the Nazis.

The word "Gypsy" is a slang word perpetuating stereotypes of Roma people as "thieves, rowdies, dirty, immoral, con-men, asocials, and work-shy" according to the Council of Europe.

In a similar vein, the term "Gyp" or "getting gypped" means to cheat or get conned, and many connect this meaning as another racist extension of Gypsy.

4. No Can Do

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the very common phrase "no can do" was originally made popular as a way to make fun of Chinese immigrants.

"The widespread use of the phrase in English today has obscured its origin: what might seem like folksy, abbreviated version of I can’t do it is actually an imitation of Chinese Pidgin English. The phrase dates from the mid-19th to early-20th centuries, an era when Western attitudes towards the Chinese were markedly racist."

5. Sold Down The River

Upon first hearing, many people associate the phrase "sold down the river" with the notion of being betrayed, lied to, or otherwise screwed over. While these definitions all technically apply to the origin, the root of this phrase is much more bleak.

According to a report from NPR, being "sold down the river" was a literal reference to slavery, and the families that were torn apart in the south.

"River" was a literal reference to the Mississippi or Ohio rivers. For much of the first half of the 19th century, Louisville, Ky., was one of the largest slave-trading marketplaces in the country. Slaves would be taken to Louisville to be "sold down the river" and transported to the cotton plantations in states further south.

This heavy connotation sadly makes sense, but also makes casual use of the phrase feel way more cringe-inducing.

6. Welfare Queen

The term "welfare queen" was first popularized by Ronald Reagan's 1976 presidential campaign in which he repeatedly painted a picture of a Cadillac-driving welfare queen.

This straw woman in Reagan's campaign served as a racially-charged exaggeration of one minor case of real welfare fraud used to pedal his platform for welfare reform.

Needless to say, the term has sadly lived on as a racially-charged vehicle used to undermine the importance of welfare programs, while peddling gross stereotypes about black women.

On top of all the other offenses, this stereotype is of course ignoring the fact that poor white Americans receive the most welfare out of any economically-disadvantaged demographic.

7. Shuck And Jive

The term shuck and jive is both common and very obviously rooted in the language of slavery.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the phrase shuck and jive refers to:

"The fact that black slaves sang and shouted gleefully during corn-shucking season, and this behavior, along with lying and teasing, became a part of the protective and evasive behavior normally adopted towards white people in ' traditional' race relations."

Likewise, the modern usage of this phrase refers to pandering, selling out, or instances in which black people go along with racist white people's wishes. Again, not a phrase to be thrown around lightly.

8. Long Time No See

The very commonly used greeting "long time no see" first became popular as a way to make fun of Native Americans. The phrase was used as a way to mock a traditional greeting exchanged between Native Americans.

This is the official definition, according to the Oxford Dictionary:

"Long Time No See was originally meant as a humorous interpretation of a Native American greeting, used after a prolonged separation. The current earliest citation recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) comes from W.F. Drannan’s book Thirty-one Years on Plains (1901): ‘When we rode up to him [sc. an American Indian] he said: ‘Good mornin. Long time no see you’."

The act of committing genocide is not limited to human lives, but also translates to a normalized cultural violence. Deconstructing, mocking, and erasing someone's language contributes to this pattern of colonialism.

9. The Peanut Gallery

Most modern uses of the term "the peanut gallery" is in reference to a group of people who needlessly criticize or mocking another person. However, the historical roots of this term are much more racist and painful.

Originally, this term referred to the balconies in segregated theaters where black people were forced to sit. The nickname "peanut" was given due to the fact that peanuts were introduced to America at the same time as the slave trade. Because of this, there was a connection drawn between black people and peanuts.

10. Uppity

As of now, the word "uppity" is often used as a synonym for "stuck up" or "pretentious" or "conceited." But the roots of the word are far more specific and racist.

The word Uppity was first used by Southerners to refer to slaves who did not fall into line, or acted as if they "didn't know their place."

So, basically, any black person who overtly stood up to racism. Given the heaviness of this origin, it seems best to leave this word at home when looking to describe a pretentious acquaintance.

Sadly, given our ugly history, there are many more words and phrases I could add to this list. In the meantime, hopefully this list is helpful for navigating the racism innate in our language.

The article was originally published by our partners at someecards and was written by Bronwyn Isacc.


This article originally appeared on 02.04.19

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Longtime GRAMMY Awards partner Mastercard is using this year’s campaign to shine a light on the environment and the Priceless Planet Coalition (PPC), a forest restoration program with the goal of restoring 100 million trees. Music fans are 1.5 times more likely to take action to help the environment, making the GRAMMY Awards the perfect opportunity to raise awareness.

“Through our GRAMMY Awards campaign, we’ve created an opportunity for our brand, our partners and consumers to come together over shared values, to participate during a moment when we can celebrate our passion for music and our commitment to make meaningful investments to preserve the environment,” says Rustom Dastoor, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications, North America at Mastercard.

The campaign kicked off with an inspired self-guided multi-sensory tour at the GRAMMY House presented by Mastercard, where people journeyed through their passion of music and educational experience about Mastercard’s longstanding commitment to tree restoration. Then, this year’s most-nominated GRAMMY artist and a passionate voice for the environment, SZA, led the charge with the debut performance of her new song, Saturn.

Mastercard’s partners are also joining the mission by encouraging people all over the country to participate; Lyft and Sirius XM are both offering ways for consumers to get involved in the Priceless Planet Coalition. To learn more about how you can support these efforts, visit mastercard.com/forceofnature.

While fashion is always a highlight of any GRAMMY Awards event, SZA’s outfit worn during her performance of Saturn was designed to make a statement; made of tree seeds to help spread awareness. Fans can even comment ‘🌱’ and tag a friend on Mastercard’s designated post of SZA’s GRAMMY House performance for a chance to win a tree seed from the performance outfit*.

“SZA has a personal passion for sustainability – not just in forest restoration but in the clothes she wears and the platforms and partners she aligns herself with. It was important to us to partner with someone who is not only showing up big at the GRAMMY Awards – as the most GRAMMY-nominated artist this year – but also showing up big for the environment,” says Dastoor.

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If you were to ask a random group of people, "How often do you wash your sheets?" you'd likely get drastically different answers. There are the "Every single Sunday without fail" folks, the "Who on Earth washes their sheets weekly?!?" people and everyone in between.

According to a survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by Mattress Advisor, the average time between sheet changings or washings in the U.S. is 24 days—or every 3 1/2 weeks, approximately. The same survey revealed that 35 days is the average interval at which unwashed sheets are "gross."

Some of you are cringing at those stats while others are thinking, "That sounds about right." But how often should you wash your sheets, according to experts?

Hint: It's a lot more frequent than 24 days.

While there is no definitive number of days or weeks, most experts recommend swapping out used sheets for clean ones every week or two.

Dermatologist Alok Vij, MD told Cleveland Clinic that people should wash their sheets at least every two weeks, but probably more often if you have pets, live in a hot climate, sweat a lot, are recovering from illness, have allergies or asthma or if you sleep naked.

We shed dead skin all the time, and friction helps those dead skin cells slough off, so imagine what's happening every time you roll over and your skin rubs on the sheets. It's normal to sweat in your sleep, too, so that's also getting on your sheets. And then there's dander and dust mites and dirt that we carry around on us just from living in the world, all combining to make for pretty dirty sheets in a fairly short period of time, even if they look "clean."

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Sorry, once-a-monthers. You may want to step up your sheet game a bit.

What about the rest of your bedding? Blankets and comforters and whatnot?

Sleep.com recommends washing your duvet cover once a week, but this depends on whether you use a top sheet. Somewhere between the Gen X and Millennial eras, young folks stopped being about the top sheet life, just using their duvet with no top sheet. If that's you, wash that baby once a week. If you do use a top sheet, you can go a couple weeks longer on the duvet cover.

For blankets and comforters and duvet inserts, Sleep.com says every 3 months. And for decorative blankets and quilts that you don't really use, once a year washing will suffice.

What about pillows? Pillowcases should go in with the weekly sheet washing, but pillows themselves should be washed every 3 to 6 months. Washing pillows can be a pain, and if you don't do it right, you can end up with a lumpy pillow, but it's a good idea because between your sweat, saliva and skin cells, pillows can start harboring bacteria.

Finally, how about the mattress itself? Home influencers on TikTok can often be seen stripping their beds, sprinkling their mattress with baking soda, brushing it into the mattress fibers and then vacuuming it all out. Architectural Digest says the longer you leave baking soda on the mattress, the better—at least a few hours, but preferably overnight. Some people add a few drops of essential oil to the baking soda for some extra yummy smell.

If that all sounds like way too much work, maybe just start with the sheets. Pick a day of the week and make it your sheet washing day. You might find that climbing into a clean, fresh set of sheets more often is a nice way to feel pampered without a whole lot of effort.

******No credits for pics*******

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Since the relationship between the pop star and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce became public, Swift has been coming to his games to cheer him on. And because Taylor Swift is, in fact, a global megastar, she's gotten a bit more screen time than other players' loved ones.

Some folks have had a hard time coping with this fact, however, loudly expressing their displeasure at having the cameras "constantly" pan to Taylor Swift during NFL games. Technically, she's only been on screen for an average of 25 seconds during each of the last four Chiefs games with an average camera shot being less than 8 seconds, but for some, that's still too much.

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