The Changing Meanings of Racist Terms


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Essay #: 051478
Total text length is 6,450 characters (approximately 4.4 pages).

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The beginning:
The Changing Meanings of Racist Terms
In 1986 African-American writer Gloria Naylor wrote “The Meanings of a Word,” an essay about this issue in The New York Times in which she argued that the meaning of any given word is determined by the context in which it is used. Naylor specifically wrote about the word “nigger,” a term that has been used as an insult for African-American people in the United States for hundreds of years. Ten years later, in 1995-1996, Chinese-American author Christine Leong wrote an essay inspired by Naylor’s discussion called “Being a Chink,” in which she describes her own relationship to the word “Chink,” which has been used as a term of abuse against Chinese and Chinese-American people in the United States. Both...
The end:
.....d his generation might not feel that such a change is possible because he has always heard it used in a negative manner. 
 Word meanings are easily changeable and they depend completely on the ways in which the words are used and by whom they are used. One previously racist term can have countless numbers of meanings depending on who is using it and how they are using it. The way one person uses a term might offend another person, even if they are from the same identity group. As Gloria Naylor and Christine Leong have shown in their own essays, language is a very powerful cultural force that helps us to interact with the world around us.
Leong, Christine. “Being a Chink,” 1995-96.
Naylor, Gloria. “The Meanings of a Word,” 1986.