The Problematic History Of These Five Everyday Words And Phrases

cakewalk poster
Briona Lamback
January 24, 2023

We’ve probably all said some of these five everyday phrases without knowing just how problematic they truly are. Will you still use these after you learn the history behind them?

#1 Wench 

"Bed wenches" once referred to Black women who were forced to have sex with enslavers, and now it's used to attack our women who date interracially.

#2 Cakewalk

When there's an easy victory, some call it a "cakewalk," but the term has racist roots. It began as enslaved people mocking whites' rhythmless dancing but became a competition that enslavers did, offering cake as the prize before becoming popular in minstrel shows.

#3 Blackballed

Commonly used words that begin with 'black' carry negative connotations, often associated with evil or disgrace, like blackballed and blacklisted. Meanwhile, words starting with “white” often imply purity or decency. 

Researchers say these connotations reinforce social norms about us.

#4 Master/Slave

In real estate, "master" is commonly used to describe the largest bedroom in a home‒no one bats an eye. In technology, "master" and "slave" are used by tech engineers to "describe components of hardware and software in which one process or device controls another."

#5 Spade

"Calling a spade a spade" means telling it like it is, but it's a racially-coded term for Blackness. Harlem Renaissance writers used the word first, then whites stole it and made it a slur. 

Language is powerful. Anti-Blackness is so sneaky it's embedded harmful words into our everyday speech. These words remind us that we should take time to question the things the system tries to teach us.

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