Observations and ideas about race, ethnicity and mixing.

Who can say it?

Throughout my life, I have come to hear, learn, and have conversations about words that are considered derogatory. Some words are just disrespectful and rude when said to any individual, however there are other words that are historically rooted that mean much more when said to certain peoples of different races, religions, etc. The word “coolie” is something I had not heard about until very recently, but as I read I have become to realize that it is very similar to some other derogatory words that I know. The origin of this word is very similar to the word “nigger”, while one was used by white people to label and belittle indentured servants, the other was used to do the same for African slaves. The most interesting thing about some of these words is how the groups who were once labeled by them, take the word, bring power to them and use them openly within their communities. Time and time again we have seen marginalized groups use words that previously were oppressive towards them, and confidently make the word apart of their cultures and identities. It was interesting to see that the word “coolie” took this path as well, and how people like Rajkumari Singh find beauty in it and feel as though it represents heritage. However, for me this always brings up the conversation of who is allowed to participate in the appreciation and renewal of the word “coolie”. I have struggled with this issue for the n-word, and constantly wonder who should be allowed to say and use it, if anyone. Now that I reflect more, I think to myself if anyone has the right to even argue if people can recreate, use, or not use these words. I am taking rural education this semester, and in knowing peoples from rural backgrounds are very marginalized even though they might be of a privileged race, it seems as though the word “redneck” might be able to enter this conversation as well. Again, it is a word that for a long time has been used to setback specific groups of people, but some of these people also have come to accept the word, and have made it parts of their identities. In the end, words are extremely powerful and fascinating, and it will be interesting to see how different words change in meaning and power for the upcoming generations.

1 Comment

  1. jimminkc

    As a white person I would never use the word. I remember last year a white male student got into an argument with others students stating that he can use any word that he wants. This is true but I think there is so much importance in realizing it is more than a word but it represents 300 years of oppression.

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