‘Denigrate’ inherently racist?

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  • #10346

    Lynn
    Member

    I have always cringed at the word ‘denigrate,’ even when used by African Americans. It is always considered negative, and literally, the word means ‘to blacken.’ Does anyone else find this word offensive?

    User Detail :  

    Name : Lynn, Gender : F, Sexual Orientation : Straight, Race : Black/African American, Religion : Episcopalian, Age : 30, City : Charlotte, State : NC Country : United States, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, Social class : Middle class, 
    #30651

    Audrey
    Member

    The content in which I have heard are used is in the thesaurus definition of: to down grade, or belittle. I have not heard it used for ‘blacken’.

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    Name : Audrey, Gender : F, Race : Black/African American, Religion : Christian, Age : 36, City : Tampa, State : FL Country : United States, Occupation : Diversity Consultant, Education level : 4 Years of College, Social class : Upper middle class, 
    #14656

    Wayne24408
    Participant

    Interesting. I had never looked the word up in the dictionary, so I didn’t know the literal meaning of the word. Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to decide if I should be offended by its use. I’m not being sarcastic. It’s new information. Thanks for pointing this out, since I’m not sure when I would have gotten around to actually looking this word up in the dictionary.

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    Name : Wayne24408, Gender : M, Race : Black/African American, Age : 43, City : Parsippany, State : NJ Country : United States, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, Social class : Middle class, 
    #15328

    James D.
    Member

    I think you are working too hard to take offense at a word whose origin is not nearly as important as its meaning. “Denigrate” means “to disparage” and is negative. But no one using it cares a whit what its derivation is. You might also be offended by the word “niggardly” (which means “stingy”) and expressions like “a black cloud hung over his head,” but the language has evolved the way it is and words have meanings completely apart from their component parts. In Russian, the word for “German” means “deaf,” because the first Russians to speak to Germans couldn’t make themselves understood so they thought Germans must be deaf (at least, that’s the story my Russian teacher taught me).

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    Name : James D., Gender : M, Sexual Orientation : Gay, Race : White/Caucasian, Religion : Atheist, Age : 47, City : Summit, State : NJ Country : United States, Education level : 4 Years of College, 
    #24534

    Brian
    Member

    It’s just a word, just like ‘niggardly,’ and shouldn’t bother anyone, especialy since the dictionary definition has nothing to do with race at, but rather character.

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    Name : Brian, Gender : M, Race : White/Caucasian, Age : 32, City : Philadelphia, State : PA Country : United States, Occupation : Executive, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, Social class : Upper class, 
    #25157

    Tara27427
    Participant

    I never thought that because I never attached anything having to do with race to the word. I don’t know any white people who think that way about the word, either. Actually, I looked it up in the dictionary and it doesn’t literally mean ‘to blacken’. It means to ‘to cast aspersions on’ or ‘to deny the importance or validity of’. Its etymology, not definition, is: ‘Latin denigratus, past participle of denigrare, from de- + nigrare to blacken, from nigr-, niger black’. It just comes from the Latin word for the color black and has nothing to do with race. I guess the word sort of means ‘to blacken’ in a metaphorical way, but I don’t connect it to race at all. Your question made me sad. I wouldn’t feel bad about the word if I were you. There is nothing wrong with having black skin, it’s just certain ignorant people who feel that way. Don’t let them win. Anybody so stupid to equate the negative metaphorical ‘to blacken’ with black skin is an ignorant, racist idiot. But anyone that stupid probably doesn’t have a clue what the word means, anyhow.

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    Name : Tara27427, Gender : F, Race : White/Caucasian, Age : 31, City : Milwaukee, State : WI Country : United States, Education level : 4 Years of College, 
    #47496

    J
    Member

    I don’t know if you should be offended. The languages of Western Europe are filled with negative references to ‘Black.’ In some cases, the negativity represents a cultural orientation to the color – and things associated with blackness – night, the unknown, the feminine principle. In most respects, Western cultures are opposed to these elements. The question of race is a part of this as well. It’s must deeper than a cultural aversion to Black folks. Rather than being offended, I might suggest you revel in this deep-seated expression of superstition from the rational West. There is more humor here than harm – especially if you can use language to your advantage. Etymology is a great tool.

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    Name : J, Gender : M, Race : Black/African American, Age : 35, City : Brooklyn, State : NY Country : United States, Occupation : Consultant, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, Social class : Middle class, 
    #39946

    Meg21927
    Participant

    That word, like ‘niggardly,’ now carries too much freight to justify its use. ‘Put down,’ ‘cast aspersions on,’ etc., are all perfectly acceptable alternatives.

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    Name : Meg21927, Gender : F, Sexual Orientation : Bisexual, Race : White/Caucasian, Religion : Wiccan, City : Boston, State : MA Country : United States, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, 
    #43120

    Huey21336
    Participant

    I’m sorry- I think you’re being hugely oversensitive about that… I too have thought about the fact that most idioms that mention black (Black Tuesday, black cloud, etc) are negative, and wondered about its effect on society’s perception of blacks… but discounted it for the most part. I don’t think many people think about race when they refer to Black Monday or stuff like that. To be offended by a word that doesn’t even contain the word black… that’s just overboard to me- I think you’re looking for a reason to be offended. I doubt that most people using the word (1) know it’s etymological origin, (2) mean it in reference to a race, or (3) have any idea that someone black might be offended by the word. Are you offended by maps with the country ‘Niger’ on it too?

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    Name : Huey21336, Gender : M, Race : Black/African American, Age : 28, City : Atlanta, State : GA Country : United States, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, 
    #44463

    jason31278
    Participant

    That’s definately a troublesome question. On one hand I see your point about the significance of blackness being looked upon as both negative and associated with people of color. But I think it’s important to realize that most of the black imagery in indo-european languages comes from fear of the unknowing: darkness, as a place where evil dwells. While this kind of underlying idea to european languages can create complications in race matters (‘dark continent’ for example) I think it’s proving less and less meaningful in the collective unconscious, particularly since most people that use the word probably don’t even realize its latin roots.

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    Name : jason31278, Gender : M, Age : 27, City : columbia, State : SC Country : United States, 
    #46162

    Lynn: I don’t think i agree with you on this one. I’ve never been offended by the word nor would I be offended by it’s literal definition. I think one would only find that offensive if they find the thought of ‘blackening’ something offensive. What is wrong with blackening something? Context may be useful here. I’d be interested to know in what form you find the word offensive.

    User Detail :  

    Name : Tressie Cottom, Gender : F, Sexual Orientation : Straight, Race : Black/African American, Age : 28, City : Charlotte, State : NC Country : United States, Occupation : copywriter, Education level : 4 Years of College, Social class : Middle class, 
    #46918

    Kevin26333
    Participant

    Not me, but then, I don’t find the word ‘niggardly’ offensive either, but no one with any sense of judgment will ever use it because it too closely resembles a certain racist term, despite the fact that its meaning is totally unassociated with race. I don’t perceive any racial overtones in the use of ‘denigrate’

    User Detail :  

    Name : Kevin26333, Gender : M, Race : Black/African American, Age : 35, City : Houston, State : TX Country : United States, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, Social class : Middle class, 
    #16401

    Beth
    Member

    I have been blissfully unaware of the word’s derivation, as I imagine most people are. I’m glad to have been informed about it because I’m happy to structure my communication style so as not to promote disparaging images of any peoples. I think it’s a good move to refer to ‘people of color’ rather than ‘Black’, or ‘Negro’, and ‘Caucasian’ is more accurate than ‘White’ (which seems to be the color of Virtue).

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    Name : Beth, Gender : F, Sexual Orientation : Heterosexual, Disability : Aged, Race : White/Caucasian, Religion : Atheist, Age : 70, City : Glen Gardner, State : NJ Country : United States, Occupation : Teacher - retired, Education level : Over 4 Years of College, Social class : Upper middle class, 
    #24915

    Jerry30759
    Participant

    Lynn,I am sorry that you are so sensitized to the racism in this country that your hackles are agitated by a good english word, which originated from Latin. Although the Romans surely held some African slaves along with the Greeks, Gauls, Jews and most other ethnic groups of their age, they probably did not have any idea of racial prejudice. They only believed that every one who was not Roman was inferior. Don’t we all do that in some way? I believe the word denigrate predates African slavery in this country and did not include any intent to defame the African race.

    User Detail :  

    Name : Jerry30759, Gender : M, Sexual Orientation : Straight, Disability : human, Race : White/Caucasian, Religion : Presbyterian, Age : 57, City : Aiken, State : SC Country : United States, Occupation : nuclear engineer, Education level : 4 Years of College, Social class : Upper class, 
    #42958

    Michele
    Participant

    I don’t think words in and of themselves can be offensive. It is the context in which they are used that causes offense.

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    Name : Michele, Gender : F, Sexual Orientation : Straight, Race : White/Caucasian, Religion : Agnostic, Age : 39, City : Hartford, State : CT Country : United States, Occupation : homemaker, Education level : 2 Years of College, Social class : Middle class, 
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