Uncovering The Hidden And Racist Meanings Of Everyday Words

scrabble words
Alyssa Guzik
November 16, 2023

#1 Freeholder

Though used for centuries, the word "freeholder" took root in the U.S. as part of the Constitution. It established that only white men could be landowners. The repercussions of this rule of law still have lingering consequences today.

#2 Grandfathered In/Grandfather Clause

When the 15th amendment was ratified, giving Black men the right to vote, Southern states retaliated by passing laws giving poor white men new voting access. They were "grandfathered" into giving white votes more power.

#3 Jimmies

Though most people use the term "sprinkles," the word "jimmies" is interchangeable but problematic. "Jimmies" refers explicitly to chocolate sprinkles. The exact origin of the term remains up for debate. Some claim they were named after the Jim Crow laws against Black folks in the South; others claim their inventor said they reminded them of tiny Black people. Either way, we should stick to just calling them sprinkles.

#4 Mumbo Jumbo

"Mumbo Jumbo," or something confusing or meaningless, didn't take this meaning until the 20th century. A clerk observing the religious rituals of a "Maamajomboo" of the Mandinka people relayed what he couldn't understand in language or performance in his book "Travels In The Interior Districts of Africa."

These unassuming words carry the weight of a system that deliberately marginalizes us. Until we address the unfairness present in our everyday culture and deliberately choose words that are free from prejudice and discrimination, we will unintentionally support a system that benefits from using language to oppress others.