Friday, February 11, 2011

Language as a Tool for Cultural Domination

The Danger of Not Knowing Implied Meanings

King v Chief

Political leader of an identifiable European people (=nation) – King

Political leader of identifiable non-European people (=nation) – Chief

Priest v Fetish (Priest)

Religious leader of European creed – Priest

Religious leader on non-European creed – Fetish (priest)

Nation v Tribe

3 Million Welsh = Nation

5 Million Norwegians = Nation

10 Million Belgians = Nation

16 Million Dutch = Nation

25 Million Igbo = Tribe!

Icon v Idol

Deceased, revered European/Caucasian person – Icon

Deceased revered non-European/Caucasian person – Idol

Discovery of Lands

Amerigo Vespucci ‘discovered’ America. The full subconscious meaning: Amerigo Vespucci discovered America [for the human race]. What? The real Americans living there (and they’re not Indian) were not human?

I won’t  even talk about Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo or Mungo Park.


Blackmail, Blackguard, Blacklist, Black mark, Black market, Black mass, Black sheep, etc.

Be careful what you learn. Teach your children. Let them avoid the inferiority meme.


  1. Whoa, whoa, Nana Yaw. What's this? But then again, it doesn't sound untrue. Let me read again.

  2. Wow! I especially like the Nation v Tribe bit. Never thought of it like that.

  3. Is this a white paper on the use of language as a whitewash for racism?
    Without wanting to whiteout the problem, we don’t want to create a white elephant or unnecessary white noise over issues whose origins may not be metaphors rooted in race. Without wanting to be seen as raising the white flag I’ll go and drink a delicious cup of black coffee as I don’t touch white lightening!

  4. Not intending to make this a BLACK SPOT, Graham, remind me whether you're from the Scottish TRIBE or the English Tribe. And while you're at it, when was the last time you read the bible about the IDOL Jesus Christ. And was the father of Elizabeth II not CHIEF George? Were there only lizards and toads in Africa and America when the ancient Eurpeans DISCOVERED the land? If you have a religious pendant around your neck, it would like be a CRICUFIX. If I had one on my neck in 1800, it would be a charm or amulet. Enough.

  5. @graham ghana: i'll have a black coffee too but with cream(or shd i say white lightening). Oops! Save me a cupper too but dnt forget the cream lol.

  6. @NY Asiedu. that's deep stuff, BUT U R STILL RIGHT. I AGREE.

  7. Deep and true. You have opened my mind on several issues and added several points to my arguments. Thanks

  8. Do you remember when you were punished for speaking your own language?
    People underestimate the powerful force of language - it embodies culture! Remember we new 'chief' because the white British(?) used it on us.
    You should read a poem written by Nana Nyarko Boateng on the use of such words as 'black' 'blacklist' blackspot' etc. Tragic.
    Everything white is good, everything black is evil: duality. It goes on. Others, mainly Eurocentric creeps, have used it to dominate so many around the world psychologically, which then translates into real social, cultural and economic term. Ditto. It is even sadder when Africans themselves help in white-washing their kith and kin

  9. @ Asiedu and Graham, ok, I won't mess up Asiedu's beautiful answer to my friend Graham. There is racism there, rooted or not, someone has used it to his/her generation's advantage against others.

  10. I know it’s ill-advised to debate with a lawyer but as I’ve rushed in where angels fear to tread I might as well continue!

    I was itching to discuss the tribe thing so thanks for the permission.

    The English are not a tribe. It might be more accurate to talk about the Celts. There were tribes on our island and, in my opinion, through repeated occupations from foreign forces, the fiction of Nation triumphed and erased our knowledge of who we were. We don’t even remember who our Gods were.

    As Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche has Master say in Half of a Yellow Sun, “…the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe. I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.”

    As to your question why England has Kings and Queens not Chiefs I’m still trying to understand why Ghana has pastors but we have vicars!

    As for the Idol Jesus, I will leave that for the Christians and their doctrine of the Trinity to ponder! As you know I’m not in favour of adopting colonial and slave-master religions! lol

    I do agree with the general point being made and the call to make people think and question; I’m just not keen on all your examples.

    @the other Nana Yaw – Do you think the use of black and white in language refers to race?

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. I concur NANA YAW (NUMBER 2), the use of black and white refers to race with black mainly referring to the evil sort of thing and God knows what else.

  15. I rather like NY's elucidation of the little discrepancies we find in the language we use every day. its food for thought.

    As for the whole black and white arguement it can go on forever -

    Harmony - piano keyboard

    Conflict - the white cue ball hunting the black 8 ball down to smack it into a hole.

    Priority - the individual playing white always moving first on a chess board.

    Infamy - the black plague.

    the list can go on and on. But is it worth it?

  16. Brilliant , that's why your blog is in english ?
    Why waste you time and energy over something you can't change & that is just an accident of history - Lot's of White's have been abused and stepped on throughout history . But we pick ourselves up and stop crying poor me ..... ah victum victum ...... I have family that died in the civil war fighting for your freedom , as does 100's of thousands of other whities ! So get over yourself get off your as and do something , to better yourself , your famliy and your "people"

  17. Kwame Mensa-Bonsu12 February, 2011 failed to include the 5m Scots and 5m Danes... Interesting discussion. I have always considered myself a member of the Asante ethnic group though.

  18. @ Fafaq:

    Thank you for your critique. I reckon you understand the real message of this post.

  19. @ Kitchen Floor:

    "I rather like NY's elucidation of the little discrepancies we find in the language we use every day. its food for thought."

    That comment of yours is quite close to my purpose for this post. It is directed at Africans to educate their children to avoid expressions that take away their confidence or identity subconsciously. No more.

  20. @ Anonymous:

    1 - Why my blog is in English? Well because I write it like it's my native language. And that's better than you "Victum"!

    2 - I have taken the pains to learn the language and all its nuances as well as the implied (and probably not-intended) meanings.

    3 - True it is that lots of white people have been hurt in history. That is irrelevant to the present debate, as is the irrelevance of blacks being hurt in history. The debate is about looking out for the deleterious latent meanings of words and expressions in language.I speak a little French and Spanish too. If I were any more fluent in either, I would have brought examples from those languages too. So, you see, your statement about my choosing to write in English is petty and should be regarded with absolute contempt.

    4 - You have a family that died in the civil war huh. Well, I'm sorry your family died. Your statement is anaemic and bankrupt of logic. I presume you are American. You think that your civil war (whatever it may be) is the only civil war in the world? Why did not indicate which one? Plus, your family did not die for my people. My people are Ghanaian and Ashanti. Your family died for them? Shame. You are probably suffering from another subconscious affliction - the one that makes certain people think that all black people are a black person's "people".

    5 - Your final statement, "So get over yourself get off your as and do something , to better yourself , your famliy and your "people" is nonsensical, silly and bigoted. I am doing things for my "people" (since you love that word that is loaded with negative meaning). I am a lawyer helping family and friends. I am also a writer helping to educate "my people".

  21. @ Nana Fredua-Agyeman:

    I am glad I could help another member of "my people". Let's keep educating ourselves and our "people". We are using another person's language. Let's learn it well and use it with knowledge.

  22. @ Nana Yaw Sarpong:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Yes, I remember when we were punished for speaking "vernacular", they called it.

    I will look for the poem by Nana Nyarko Boateng.

  23. @ Graham:

    1 - If you try to quote Chimamanda as an authority to me, you fail. For I disagree with her choice of tribe as a description of an African people. They are an "Ethnic Group" as are the Celts. Tribe and nation should really have no difference in meaning except when the user of the word "tribe" deliberately or unknowingly distinguishes tribe from nation on the ground of level of primitiveness. And that is the TRUTH!

    2 - I'll share a gold nugget my law professor taught me in first year. I know you know it already, since we talk.


    Chimamanda is amazing. But I do not agree with her use of "tribe" and I am almost 100% sure that she would be affronted by your quote of a passage of her book to back your point.

  24. Interesting comments through and through about this post.
    First time commenting and i am loving this post's trend.
    Let's teach our kids to circumspect in everything especially words they use.

  25. Using black and white as metaphors for moral qualities may simply capitalize on a cosmic duality, but I think that using black and white to describe people is problematic. Efficient, but problematic. Never met anyone well described by either adjective. Which came first: black people, or words like blacklist/blackmail etc.? And who started calling people black? And in what context?

  26. @ altheakale:

    A perfectly logical position to take, I admit. Except it still misses the point of this post. This post is simply to tell "my people" as Anon would like to call all 'Black' people to be careful to open the eyes of the young to nuances in language that can be damaging to the spirit.

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. This post is by far the best i have read in a million years on any blog. More of these pls NY Asiedu. I find this not only educative, it is also enlightening and brings to the fore things we generally take for granted. Stuff like this should be taught at our schools. I am a product of the new system i.e SSS and not the old Sytsm of education, i read cultural studies which was a core module and also took history as an elective. Had i read any of these topics during my studies on the new system of education(SSS), I think it would have been gr8 and i bet i would have enjoyed cultural studies and my history lessons immensely. Once again this is good, i am a lover of history and especially African history and i yearn for more of these.

  29. i'm looking at my skin right now and i don't see black. i'm what i choose to call myself.

  30. @Novosi, true that: i concur

  31. I agree about the need to open our childrens' eyes to the nuance of post was somewhat off of your original message, but there is a relationship. When studying implied meanings of words, it is often helpful to do so within a historical context, expecially if you want children to become personally invested in the lesson. Why was a specific group of people defined as black when there are other, perhaps better, options for describing, and even differentiating people? I think the question is germane to your post. Could naming a group of people "black" be a tool of cultural domination? I don't know; I wonder. I enjoy your blog, and this post has some interesting thoughts!


After writing your comment, please select the Name/URL box below, and write your name in the box, before submitting your comment.