Terminology and the emotive power of words, especially with regard to race

Recently my husband D. was performing at the Edinburgh Fringe with the drama group “3rd Thought”. The actors were presenting either a poem, a story, or a scene from a play to the public as a one-to-one performance. Sometimes, especially when a group of foreigners came for their story, a small family group shared in the experience. At the Edinburgh Festival there were people from Germany, Japan, Korea and many other countries, so sometimes they came up in a group simply because they needed help with the language.

1459821_764991816857111_1487635275530316461_n Sometimes a simple poem has a very moving effect on the participant. One person was even moved to tears. This reminded me of the power of words.

During the last decades, words referring to race have changed fairly frequently. For mixed-race, we now often say ‘dual-heritage. I no long hear the phrase that used to be common – ‘half-caste’. That sounds offensive now to my ears. And yet I remember that at a book launch of one of my books in early 1990s, a child came up to me and explained, to my surprise that she was ‘quarter-caste’. I had not heard that before, but this definition evidently pleased the child in question.

Nowadays people can be frowned upon if they use what is considered to be out-dated terminology. For this reason I salute the founders of a new website that honours different cultures and backgrounds of children. The title uses strong metaphors and thus avoids the problem of current or outdated terminology. It is called Mirrors, Windows, Doors. http://www.mirrorswindowsdoors.org/wp

windows doorsImage courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I quote from the website itself: © Marjorie Coughlan and Mirrors Windows Doors, 2014

“Those words were originally coined by Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at Ohio State University, who specialised in African American children’s literature. In a 1990 article re-published recently here by Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), she wrote:

‘Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

Clearly the website will recommend books that offer new insights and will embrace a world view. That is something to be welcomed.

 

 

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