January 17, 2022

3 Phrases I didn’t realize were Racist.

Well, crap. I’ve said all three of these pretty often.

I had no idea. But after watching an Indigenous man’s TikTok in which he listed a number of common phrases that were racist, I realized I was guilty of using a few of them.

Some of them, I was already aware of, like “low on the totem pole” and “Indian giver,” or using words like “spirit animal” or “tribe” as a non-Indigenous person.

But there were three that I was completely clueless about:

“Long time no see.”

The first usage of this phrase was for the purpose of mocking a non-English speaker—although there’s still debate about whether it was done to the Chinese or the Indigenous. The first printed use of this phrase occurred in the early 1900s. Regardless, it was originally said with ill intent.

“No can do.”

The history behind this phrase is similar to “long time no see”—it was used to mock those who weren’t native English speakers, although this one is more commonly understood to have been used against Chinese immigrants.

“On the warpath.”

This phrase is meant to describe someone who’s in a foul mood, ticked off, and wanting to pick a fight, but it was originally used to stereotype Native Americans as violent “savages,” which only furthered their oppression.

Other phrases you might not realize are racist:

>> master bedroom/bathroom
>> grandfathered in
>> blacklisted/whitelisted
>> peanut gallery
>> mumbo jumbo

You may be thinking—Well, I don’t mean any harm when I say them now. Times have changed. They’re common phrases.

True. None of us are bad people for not having known, and we certainly weren’t intending to oppress anyone. But, when we know better, we do better.

Using phrases and words in our everyday language that have a history of racism or oppression, even if that’s not our intent today, is still furthering the oppression. Regardless of our intent, they’re having an impact. It’s essentially calling that history of racism acceptable. These words maintain their power to do harm, even if we were unaware of their origin.

Our language is constantly evolving, and there’s no reason it can’t evolve to let go of these harmful phrases.

What phrase or idiom did you stop using once you learned its history?

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