During a conversation, I have had a couple days ago, with a person maybe 10, 15 years younger than me, she mentioned that she was working with a group that does projects in the GLOBAL SOUTH. I guess I might have heard the term before, but this time it struck me somehow. In my youth, I was always very left-leaning and participated in several quite radical groups, one way or the other. Back then there were many debates on what we should call poorer nations and regions of the world. The term GLOBAL SOUTH made me realize that this debate is still ongoing.
While I was participating in such debates, it seemed clear, that the term Third World was bad, so we used Developing Nations or sometimes even Trikont (for the three continents Africa, Asia and South America) to describe the poorer nation that differed from the place we were living in. We had the best of intentions and distanced ourselves from racism and such as much as anyone could. But apparently, the development always goes further and now the young women I was talking to, felt to be in a position to tell me that Developing Nations is a very negative term and has to be avoided. One might call it evolution, I call it a problem as well.
It seems to me as if every generation suddenly realizes that there is still racism in the world and that this racism is somehow embedded in certain words used. So far, so good. But then comes the point, when suddenly someone comes up with a solution. The same solution, that is always implemented, let’s get rid of one word and use another instead. So, Third World becomes Developing Nations, becomes Global South … and in some years, this then becomes something else. It has to, since Global South, from the way I understand it, definitely includes Australia and New Zealand and certainly excludes all of Central Asia. How dare they!
I always thought that the idea of communication is to transmit information from one individual to another. So, pointing your finger at something and make the other person understand that you want to draw attention to this something; to my understanding, that would be the most rudimentary form of communication. Both sides have to agree that pointing means pointing though, but beyond that, it makes little difference, how crooked your finger is. But here, in the example above, it is almost like the other side explaining “well I know what your pointing means, but we should do it differently, since pointing like you do is very offensive”. One can do that, but I think that this somehow undermines the way communication works. Communication is always highly abstract and always very open for interpretation. We can be extremely happy, if we reach the point, where the other side gets some of what we are trying to communicate.
Sure, there is the issue of racism, sexism, fascism, etc.. We will certainly never get rid of that. I think it is part of who we are to attempt to find our place within the surrounding multitude of groups. We have to define us by defining otherness. The others are in part what make an individual part of a certain “us”. We are not like them, that make us to the us we hope to be. I am not saying that this makes racism something positive, but rather something that is deeply rooted in our programming. Maybe so deep that we will never get rid of it.
But blaming language is just wrong. Once you bring enough people to use a new term, that definitely gives you a gratification. It fells as if you made the world a better place, but in fact all you did is change language and not the underlying problem. Since words are absolutely abstract, there is always enough room to project negative thinking into them. Every word and every gesture has the potential of being offensive. What is happening here is far from being the natural development of language and communication systems, but rather the attempt to control minds through the control of words. That is not going to work.
The issue with a word like nigger has nothing to do with the word nigger being offensive in itself, but rather the fact that there is so much racism and oppression towards people with African ancestry. The word nigger becomes a symbol for that and the fact that every new word quickly becomes a new symbol for oppression might just be an indication that the world hasn’t really changed that much. There is still oppression and racism felt directly in these communities. Changing the words people use to describe “them”, or for them to describe “us” did not change anything.
I think the more problems a society has with racism and prejudice, the more people demand quick action to be taken. Changing language has always been an almost instant gratification system. It is like giving the racists a new flag and pretend for a while that they are gone.
There has recently been the bullshittery of white guys to complain about being called white. It seems as if they are trying to hijack the system. If I look at myself in the mirror, I must say that it is not really white what is reflected there. Even my ass – and that rarely sees the sun – would be classified as white. It is also a very long time ago – I guess – that my ancestors left the mountains of the Caucasus. So, calling me Caucasian is a little off too. But I perfectly get that you are talking of people “like me”, when you are saying “white” or “caucasian”. I also get it, when you call me “boy”, because to the outside, that would be a sensible way to classify me amongst a group of people. I have a vague idea of who I am. But most of you have none, or an even far vaguer one. Sometimes it can not be avoided to talk about other people, sometimes people we have only looked at once. And then we have to refer to stereotypes and rash classifications, just to make communication work. And my god, isn’t it amazing that commination works to the extent it does?