Our discussion on Tuesday about whether or not Bernier was using positive or normative language in his description of the various “races” got me thinking about language in general and how the conceptions of words can change over time. For Bernier, using animalistic descriptions of human beings from East Asia may have been acceptable at the time (I’m not saying if it was accepted in his time, but that it might have been), but clearly this language is seen as racist today. What this made me realize was that if in fact Bernier’s comments were completely legitimate during his time then everyone who read this would be subject to this racist language, and whether they adopt it or not, they still may develop some sort of latent racism. This racism would come from the distinct possibility that a 17th century reader’s only image of “the other” is that which Bernier provides. Not knowing any difference to this view would cause the reader to develop incorrect understanding and associate negative language with these groups.
Now this is not to say that Bernier’s article alone would have sparked a snowball effect of people basically passing racism on to each other; however, I think that it serves as an example of how unconsciously destructive language can inadvertently transfer the same initial biases that produced that language to another individual. This relates to a topic discussed in detail in “the Sociology of Violence and Peacemaking” class, where we tried to uncover the core of violence. What we determined was that language and a lack of understanding of the other cause violence. When “the other” is not fully understood, and language is constructed about these people, then the misunderstanding is passed on to any receiver of said language.
With this idea of language as problematic and violent, there is also the question about how we are currently positioned today. Is the language that we use violent and packed with assumptions about “the other”? I feel like we often like to think that we are not racist, but most of us probably have unconscious racist tendencies or use of language simply because we were brought up in a world that has been shaped by racism for at least the past 300-400 years (if not more). So how do we uncover these tendencies? How do we better our own understanding of “the other” and recognize faults in our language? I believe part of the answer to this comes through reading, listening, and truly trying to understand “the other” and their situation. Also, by discussing our ideas with our class and talking about the “hard stuff,” the topics that people shy away from because they feel uncomfortable, we may begin to uncover biases we were unaware we had. These biases do not make us a bad person. At the same time, simply uncovering them does not make us perfect either; however, it does make us more aware, and positions us to better understand race, “the other,” and ourselves.