The power of language as a tool in excluding others

The power of language as a tool in excluding others

The power of language as a tool in excluding others

In this blog post we’ll be breaking down the language associated with BAME individuals in the public media, the influence this has on how we think and refer to others who we may perceive to be different from ourselves.

Language is the core of our society and civilisation. Did you know that language first developed through Gossiping with one another? The ‘Gossiping Theory’ allowed our language and relations with one another to develop and increased our trust with one another. There are in total 6,500 languages worldwide. You might not have realised it before but language is:

‘Powerful, influential, strong, important, controlling, commanding, potent, forceful’

Yes, these are all different words which we could use to describe the impact of language. Look at these words again, do you notice something? Despite the fact that they all have similar meanings our brains attach different connotations and meanings to the words.

A good way of explaining this would be to look at some of the images that come up on Googles image suggestions as a result of being heavily associated with these words. For example if I were to search:

Fig 1 & 2 ‘Powerful & Commanding person’ google results

Powerful person: We see lots of pictures of namely Vladimir Putin pop up. (Google)

Commanding person: We mainly get a lot of pictures suggesting angry female bosses. (Fig 1, Google)

Why does Google suggest these images? Because this is what and who we as people most strongly associate with these words. This is complexly associated with the norms and values within our society as our forms of thinking and the imagery associated with this influence our actions daily. The institutional racism that BAME individuals experience in daily life is an example of this i.e Black youths are 40x more likely to be stopped & searched as a result of racial profiling. (4).

This is where something called ‘Discourse analysis’ becomes important. This refers to the meaning of the sentence beyond the sentence itself – the thoughts and feelings which a particular word might evoke in a reader, speaker or listener.

Increasingly the British media’s ability to publish unbounded facts, words, and figures has been linked to a spike in hate crimes, especially post-Brexit. Not all negative discourse is obvious and much of it comes in the subtle form of ‘unconscious bias’ (3).

A study found that 38% of ethnic minority individuals had been wrongly suspected of shoplifting compared to 14% of white individuals and minorities 2x as likely to experience racial abuse on a daily basis (4). These are examples of racist ‘othering’ which subconsciously divides communities by gender, race and/or religion. Many of the women whom we work with have experienced a lack of community integration whether it be due to assumptions of individual’s religious dress or language barriers.

As well as these examples, the availability of comment sections on many news sites further adds ‘fuel to the fire’ and is often witness to racist and inflammatory comments. Even if you don’t hold these opinions yourself seeing them every day naturally begins to influence how and what you associate people with. This is where racial othering may come into play. The Uk has recently seen a spike in hate crimes having biased in the last five years alone (1).  (Fig 3, 4 & 5)

Fig 3,4 & 5

Individuals such as Meghan Markle and Raheem Sterling (2) have been outspoken on the topic of racial bias. With Markle commenting on the increased intensity of abuse she suffered during her pregnancy and it’s impact on her mental health. As well as the Daily Mail’s shaming of Tosin Adarabioyo but praising coverage of Phil Foden (Fig 6).

So next time you’re reading an article, read between the lines! And be weary of the impact of language on our judgements of people.

 (Fig 6)