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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing even close, May 30, 2013
By 
Brian M. Howell (Wheaton, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Everyday Language of White Racism (Paperback)
Most of us have had this experience: We encounter a book that says many things we have been saying, or wanting to say, but the book says it better, more clearly, and with greater force than we ever have. It is one of those books you weave into every conversation, no matter how unrelated, in an effort to sell its virtues.
Jane H. Hill's 2008 publication, The Everyday Language of White Racism, is one of those books for me. As a cultural anthropologist teaching at a largely white (but increasingly diverse) college, who often teaches and speaks about racism, I have spent years developing answers to familiar questions. Some students, typically white ones, ask me: "Does racism still exist?" or "Don't minorities actually have all the advantages now?" At the same time, I have students of color looking for answers: "Why don't white people get it?" or "How do I explain how they make me feel sometimes?" What Hill's book has done for me, and for anyone who wants to have stronger answers to these questions, is to lay out the theoretical framework of language and real-world examples to make the point; racism is not just the purview of the Ku Klux Klan or an Archie Bunker anachronism, but remains deeply embedded in the linguistic ideology and casual language of everyday U.S. English.

Hill opens by examining the "folk theory of race and racism" widely held by most White people, and many non-White people, in the United States. This folk theory holds that: 1) race is a basic category of human biology and that every person belongs to one or more discrete racial categories; 2) racism is a matter of individual belief and aggressive action, perpetrated by those lacking understanding (the "ignorant") and cured by education and general improvements in well-being. According to this view, racism will disappear as people either become so "racially mixed" that there is no one left to discriminate against, and/or people become more educated about others.
What Hill demonstrates, through fascinating examples taken from widespread public cases and personal ethnographic research, is that racial hierarchy, and the persistence of White racism, is not maintained through the overt acts of ignorant or hateful people. It is not typically directed at individual minority persons nor eradicated by educational or economic advance. White racism is not even restricted to the actions and language of white people. Rather, it is rooted in seemingly innocent language pointing back to racial hierarchies deeply engrained in U.S. American "common sense."

One example she returns to several times is that of "Mock Spanish:" Arnold Swartzeneggar's tag line from The Terminator, "Hasta la Vista, baby," followed by a gruesome death at his hands. Or a beer advertisement that proclaims the brand "El Drinko for Cinco!" Even the word "Adios," transformed into Mock Spanish as it is used to suggest "goodbye and good riddance," as in an advertisement for a human resources training course that reads, "Sexual Harassment Training in Spanish - Adios to Lawsuits." In each case, Spanish is appropriated in a way that is disconnected from its use in any Spanish-speaking context in order to communicate something threatening, humorous, or negative. (No Spanish speaker would say, "Until I see you again, baby!" before blowing you away with an enormous automatic weapon.)
What Hill also reports is the reaction she often receives as she points out these sorts of everyday examples. "But no one means to insult Spanish speakers with that! They're just being funny/friendly/normal." This is the same response I get from my students as I point out how films such as The Lion King rely on racialized accents to convey moral qualities such as cravenness, simplicity, or cruelty. Surely the creators of the film didn't mean it, and besides, why would Whoopi Goldberg even agree to voice the hyena if that's really what it means?

Hill counters by pointing out that language has meaning beyond what a speaker may intend. What does it mean for a monolingual English speaker to greet her friends with a jaunty, "Hey, Amigos!" What if white man calls out to his close black friend, "Wazzap!?" Most U.S. Americans would probably think that the meaning of these phrases or acts depends on the person doing them. We would look at the intention of the speaker or actor, not simply the words themselves. This commitment to "personalism" is part the reason, Hill argues, that racism often flies under the radar.

Personalism is a part of U.S. linguistic ideology, asserting that the most important part of linguistic meaning comes from the beliefs and intentions of the speaker. At the same time, we also have a commitment to "performative ideology," in which we understand some utterances ("I now pronounce you man and wife") as having force in the world to do things. Third, we see language as having "referentialist" meanings, in which they simply refer to real things in the world. These latter two aspects of linguistic ideology help us to identify some speech as racist, in that it clearly is meant to perform a negative act (hurt someone) or it has clear referential meaning (in being directed at another person.) But together, they serve to disguise racism in everyday talk.

Consider the white guys doing a "ghetto" handshake with a friendly, "What up, bro?" What does this sort of speech "do" and to whom it is directed? If those white guys didn't mean anything by it, why should we get offended? What Hill suggests many people need to add to their understanding of language is "indexicality," the notion that particular words, images, or forms "point to" something, often with identifiable connotations. When appropriating the language of a racial minority and turning it into something informal, silly, perhaps somewhat negative, we point to an understood meaning in the source of those languages. The user of Mock Spanish, the high-five, fist-bump "Yo, man!" white guy, or the "ching chong" imitator of an Asian language indexes something, and someone, and not in favorable ways. When those same men who use black speech to be funny or friendly want to communicate competence and sophistication, they use "proper" speech, and expect others to do the same.
This is how, Hill demonstrates, our everyday language can point towards ("index") and ultimately reproduce the racial hierarchies in our society. Spanish is used to highlight the lazy, dishonest, or pejorative connotations English speakers put on Spanish speakers. (She has a wonderful example from an ad in which "mock German" proclaims "Das Computer. For the überGeek." Imagine mock Spanish there. "El keyboard. For El Geek-o." The computer goes from high tech and cool to cheap and ridiculous in two grammatical twists.) African-American English is used by hip white (or black or brown) suburbanites to show they're "down," but only when they're not trying to do something important. Anyone objecting to these forms of speech is pressed to ask, but did they really mean to be racist?

After presenting a dizzying array of examples demonstrating everyday racism in online discussion threads, t-shirts, advertising, personal conversations, overheard remarks, coffee mugs, and national media brouhahas, Hill provides some rather straightforward advice: "It is time simply to hold people responsible for their words" (p. 181) In many of the public moral panics around an offensive statement or possibly racist remark, whether people "meant" to be racist or not is irrelevant, she argues. Words have social context and we should respond to those wounded, rather than scrupulously investigating the heart of the wounder. She goes on that "I have quite self-consciously stopped using Mock Spanish, sacrificing a useful resource for an enjoyable kind of light talk."(p. 182). She's committed to purging her own speech of racial hierarchies and innuendos. She knows that getting most people to stop using slangy and incorrect Spanish, or getting rich white kids to stop trying to talk like poor black kids, or convincing everyone that using faux Native American words, such as "squaw" or "papoose," is probably not going to happen. So she finally calls, at the very least, for more listening, more civility, more concern for the feelings of others. She calls out those in power to live up to a higher standard, to exert influence in interrupting everyday racism and turning public speech toward a more thoughtful and caring use of language.

In the end, it's a prophetic word, delivered in a powerful 182-page book. She is calling ordinary people to resist "common sense" and be turned to a higher concern for how language affects us all.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Otto Santa Ana, March 3, 2012
I have great respect for Hill's scholarship. Hill is highly regarded for her ability to recognize for important linguistic phenomena that no one noticed before, much less understood (e.g. Mock Spanish). She is also renown for her empirical linguistic work, and for her theorizing.

In this book Hill discusses, from a solid theoretical framework, how US White racism continues to be expressed in language, particularly among people who don't realize they are perpetuating racist views.

Once you read the book, you will think twice how YOU speak, and you will grimace at the words and language practices that complacent people of all races use which perpetuate racism.

Excellent volume.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and insightful, March 16, 2010
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This review is from: The Everyday Language of White Racism (Paperback)
Jane Hill's book is amazingly clear and approachable. Though the message is simple, it was still an eye-opener-- that racism is not what we commonly think it is. The systematic breakdown of how language use embeds racism is very interesting. I highly recommend this book for anyone in sociology, culture studies, linguistics, or related fields.
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5.0 out of 5 stars an incisive look at the racial assumptions and biases that underpin modern speech, January 21, 2014
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This work is an incisive look at the racial assumptions and biases that underpin modern speech. I may add that as someone who grew up hearing "Squaw Peak," that particular segment really resonated with me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great, January 9, 2014
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This review is from: The Everyday Language of White Racism (Paperback)
I am using this for a linguistics course I am teaching. Well-written, ideas well supported. This is the second time I am teaching "Talkin' About Race"
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book with Good points!, October 4, 2009
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Jane Hill makes several good points about how racism is related to white culture and how all cultures reiterate discrimination towards opposing races and identities. This book will sure make you think twice about what you say unconsciously and how you act towards others.
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The Everyday Language of White Racism
The Everyday Language of White Racism by Jane H. Hill (Paperback - October 20, 2008)
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