I am, as much as I hate to admit it, an accidental racist.
I know, hard to believe isn't it. I'm such a model of appropriate behavior and political correctness that you'd be forgiven for assuming I never say anything that could possibly offend anyone. But it's true.
I know I use the word gypped all the time, and I suppose anyone who was actually a Gypsy would be mortally offended by the insinuation. The same with indian giver. And I even found out the other day that the term peanut gallery has racist origins, referring to when black people had to sit at the back of the theatre.
I know, intellectually, that these are racist comments, but they're so common today that I just say them without thinking.
I guess the question is when does an expression stop being racist and start being just part of our everyday language? When I don't remember it's origin? When no one remembers it's origin? When there's no one left alive who can recall it being used to demean and insult?
The term hooligan, for example, originally referred to a drunk Irishman, or more specifically to a particular family of drunk Irishmen called the Hoolihans, but no one would consider that a racist expression. Is it because it's further away historically speaking? Or perhaps because the people it's referring to aren't still being discriminated against?
I suppose it doesn't matter, if someone finds a comment racist then I suppose that should be enough of a reason to not use it.
But I'm hardly the only one to suffer from this particular problem. Take this song that I remember hearing some of my older relatives singing when I was a kid.
Go home to your mother
you little black bugger
you don't belong to me...
Awful, right? Of course, when they sang it they were referring to flies that were buzzing around food on the dining table. If they'd thought about what it was really referring to, they probably would have been mortified.
So what about you guys? Any cases of accidental racism to share with the class?