Thursday, June 05, 2014

Coded Language and Sports

To regular readers of this blog, it may appear as if I'm obsessed with racially-coded language. And to a certain extent I am. I think it's because dog whistle racism is one of those things that is so painfully obvious to anyone with a slight amount of awareness, and yet so many people continue to deny it exists. So I'm always interested when something like this comes along: deadspin recently posted a measure derived from hundreds of thousands of words in pre-draft scouting reports of potential NFL prospects and sorted them by race.

The results are not the least bit surprising to anyone who follows sports. In fact, I often assign watching an afternoon of football to my classes when I'm teaching about race: spend just a half hour watching football (or any sport with a decent amount of racial diversity) and catalogue the kinds of words announcers and commentators use to describe athletes of various races. Undoubtedly white athletes will get labels implying they work hard -- they're gritty, tough, blue-collar -- or that they are highly intelligent -- they've got game smarts, they're students of the game, etc. On the flip side, athletes of color are spoken of often as inhuman workhorses -- they're strong, powerful, natural, gifted athletes. The difference is that white athletes are spoken of as having worked hard and studied to get to their skill level, while athletes of color are spoken of as being naturally athletic (the implication being they're neither smart nor hard-working).

But lest I be open to claims of reading too much into this, let's see how scouts talked about white athletes:

And how did they speak about Black athletes? Well...

I could go on posting these all day, but I think you get the point. Seriously, though, you should just go try it out yourself. It's both an enlightening and depressing experience, as are most times one learns about the world...

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