Re: “Nouns vs. Adjectives”

Back in November, devin posted a piece titled “Nouns vs. Adjective”. I thought it was really interesting and have thought about it off and on since then.

I came up with another take on why we associate simply saying “blacks” or “Jews” or “Mexicans” with negativity: part of it has to do with representation. In America, we generally don’t know how to talk about race or ethnicity and avoid speaking directly about it at all costs. But, when we do hear or see people bring up such labels, it’s often in a negative context. I’m thinking here of film or general news media—it’s someone on a cop show bringing up that Mulder is Jewish (“You’re one of them aren’t you. A Jew” one line went I think in the X Files) or guessing the Detective Munch, from Homicide (one of the best drama’s ever on television by the way), is a Jew. Such lables seems to only come out in negative contexts.

A large portion of the negative association also has to deal with the history of whiteness and racism in America. An Anglo calling an individual a “Mexican” in the late nineteenth century was laden with racist meanings. Similar statements can be made for other such labels from “Jew” to “woman.” It often depends on A) who is saying it now and B) who said it in the past. “You’re a Jew aren’t you?” and “Woman, get me my slippers!” versus “How does it feel to be a Jew in America today?” or “I am proud to be woman.” You get the idea.

On the other side of things, we have scholars who do not always write “the black community” or “of Jewish ancestry.” Often, these will get boiled down to the more succinct “blacks” or “Jews” which, in such a context, doesn’t rile me as it does in other situation and which devin introduced well already int he previous post. But then again, I’m someone who trades in such discourse as part of my professional training.

2 thoughts on “Re: “Nouns vs. Adjectives”

  1. I think this whole post was written as an excuse to tag something “X-Files”.

    (Joke! It’s a good post. This presents a kind of chicken and egg thing, do people use the nouns b/c of the negative connotations, or are there negative connotations b/c of who uses nouns? I think your last paragraph hints slightly in the direction of the negative connotations coming first, but there’s certainly a cyclical thing at work too.)

  2. Indeed, any excuse to use the X-Files is reason enough. I even brought it up in class one day while teaching!

    But in any case, it is a thorny issue and the “chicken and the egg” I’ve increasingly found is one at the heart of history generally. But, certainly by inciting such discourse, some nouns might be disassociated with such negativity. Well, perhaps.

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