Apartheid and its corollaries

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Monday, November 26th, 2012
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Harold A Maio, 75, is retired from teaching German and mental health editing, though he keeps a hand in both. Through art and German he has a lasting interest in expression, particularly in language. To him word is art, he likes to discern the meaning in word.

Harold speaks to Newry Times this week about apartheid and its corollaries.

Harold A Maio

Words come to us in various ways, some out of the convenience of creating them. Words can reveal, words can disguise.

Apartheid (n.) – 1947 (policy begun 1948), from Afrikaans apartheid (1929 in a South African socio-political context), lit. “separateness,” from Du. apart “separate” (from Fr. àpart; see apart) + suffix -heid, cognate of English-hood.

Because “segregation” was all too clear, the term “apartheid” was invented by white Europeans who constituted a government majority in South Africa. It was instituted with a viciousness unseen before.

It was that viciousness that so impressed itself upon Gandhi that on return to India, he began working for equality there. The world seeing its viciousness stood silent.

Words to which I have been exposed sometimes interest me enough to trace them, learn their etymology, origins, purposes. Shakespeare invented a great many. He had no maliciousness in mind. He did not intend euphemisms to disguise meaning. That is not true of all word-inventions, word-inventors.

“Ethnic cleansing” recently entered our vocabulary, and with considerable ease. Though “cleansing” hid the reality, murder, it appealed to us, we repeated it. It appeared regularly through journalism, readers repeated it. Governments repeated it. Not the most educated addressed its falseness.

I am certain survivors did not consider it cleansing. I am certain people who lost relatives and friends, lost people wholly unknown to them, did not consider it cleansing. I do not doubt, however, that they, too, began repeating it. Words can impress themselves upon us.

I no longer repeat that term, though my non-use will have no effect on its employ.

“Separate but equal” appeared in the United States, not to disguise a reality, everyone knew it to be false, but to provide livable pretense. Though it was not true, we could excuse ourselves, if we had a metaphor disguising what we concretely experienced, witnessed on a daily basis.

Government imposed it, the most educated of people repeated it, the most uneducated repeated it, not one failing to note it was false. Outside the South, no one addressed it through American’s Civil Rights Law. The federal government did not interfere, the US Office of Civil Rights did not.

I decided one day that “anti-Semitism” had to be a euphemism, for carefully examined it held no meaning. (I did not know what “Semitism was.) With but two clicks of my mouse (so empowering is the net), I found its origins: Germany about 1872.

Until its invention Germany had no parlor-friendly term for the prejudice it practiced. Its only term was “Jew Hate”, “der Judenhaß”. A semblance of decorum was needed, and it was provided. The inventors reasoned they could construct a parlor-friendly term by employing roots from classical language.

From “hate” came “anti’”, a considerable diminishment. From “Jew” came “Semite”, a considerable expansion. There are many Semitic peoples (descendants of Shem), Jews are but one.

The term has become so prevalent, so permanent in international discourse, that all other Semitic peoples are forced to repeat it, though it is directed at them. I no longer use that term, though my non-use will have no effect on its employ.

Another term has entered our lexicon, ”stigma”. We seem to delight in directing it, insisting upon it. We employ it selectively, as it was employed in the past, carefully directed, usually at un-empowered or dis-empowered people. In the UK and elsewhere it is directed at mental illnesses, at people with a mental illness.

It is directed from the highest to the lowest, from university, professionals, government, “charities,” even people at whom it is directed, people victimized by it. This week Rosalynn Carter, the wife of former US president Jimmy Carter insisted upon it in a symposium she held.

She said she has been fighting it for more than 40 years, when in actuality she has been imposing it for those 40 years. (I have started to employ the term “insisting” to expose the insisters.)

Be aware of words, it is no easy task, but there are great rewards in seeing. The best weapon against a false representation? Simply not repeat it, provide a model to replace it, by declining to use it.


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