The dialogue above all serves to remind us that we use various verbal formulations or phrases in our everyday speech which might seem so commonplace to us that we barely give a thought to what they are actually saying and how they originated.
These sayings often have a pejorative content, even though they may not be intended in this spirit. Frequently, an imperceptible insult is only then manifest in situations when a member of the group to which the saying relates hears it.
It is therefore a good thing to think about what a person is saying, what the roots of a formulation are, and what a word or phrase is actually saying. Given this kind of self-reflection, a person is then able to realise what message they are giving out and what response it could cause. Not only could a careless comment cause offence, but unconsciously we are reinforcing stereotypes which not even we, as speakers, wish to communicate.
Colonialism: A system of political control and economic exploitation of less developed countries.
Paternalism: The conviction that individuals (or entire countries) cannot themselves know what is good for them, from which there ensues an exaggeratedly protective and dominant policy which is enforced by the “superior” civilisation (in history usually by western culture) in the less developed country.
“Do you live with a black, is that why you don’t shut the door behind you?“ What did Magda actually want to say by this? Her sentence could have been: “Close the door behind you Jami.” But without being aware of what she was doing, she opted for this metaphor, in which another message altogether is contained.
Reflecting on the origin of this saying will most likely take us back to America of the 17th to 19th centuries, when black slaves worked in rich households as servants. It therefore makes reference to theories of that time regarding the subordination and superiority of individual races.
There is no tradition in the Czech lands of slavery or trading with black slaves. Although it is possible that a black servant may have appeared at some time in the royal court, this would have been a rarity.
And so the sentence “Do you live with a black ….” relates to historical and regional circumstances which do not pertain to the Czech Republic. This means that Czech has had a fact projected into it from other countries, where black people were used as slaves – for opening and closing doors, in fact.
The example given, the significance of which goes some way back in history (slavery was abolished in the middle of the 19th century in America) shows that similar phrases which become anchored in language persist for long periods of time. Our aim is not to completely remove such phrases from language, but to draw attention to the fact that a certain type of expression linked with prejudices and stereotypes is unconsciously being handed down from generation to generation. Similar sayings simultaneously bring with them another abuse – the delineation of one’s “own” group in relation to a “foreign” group, which is represented in the specific saying. The saying thus emphasises the fact that the group in question is different than our own, and given the predominantly negative wording of these phrases, is largely denigrated and degraded, while “our group” is extolled.
Another kind of speech reflecting prejudices and a tendency to lump people together and circumscribe certain groups of the population is conscious insinuation (sometimes wrapped up in the form of cliché) and jokes. These ridicule or caricature properties which we perceive as being typical for the group in question. However, by using an insinuation or joke, we also insult and uniformly evaluate all members of the group, even though individuals are involved, whose behaviour, education, etc. are not all the same.
Ouředník, P. (2005). Šmírbuch jazyka českého. Praha: Paseka.
Allport, G., W. (2004). O povaze předsudků. Praha: Prostor.