A Note on the Effects of Language on the Perception of Racial Groups by Majority Group Members


From birth children are labeled, motivated and, unfortunately, sometimes stifled by words. Whether it is in the home, community, or in the school, it is obvious that they cannot escape words and their influence. While all children are sometimes negatively affected by words, it seems as if the devastation is often overwhelming for the African-American boys.

Most educators have for some years recognized the importance of self-esteem in relationship to academic performance. Yet, few seem to correlate the self-esteem and academic performance to the use of words. As educators, on a daily basis, we must recognize the power of words to make and break our young. Furthermore, we must be vigilant in leading others who impact upon the child to recognize the same and encouraging them to make and not break our young.

Many African-American males are dying by the hands of vio­lence. This death is highly documented, but a subtle death is simul­taneously occurring and going undocumented among the same popu­lation. It is a death by words. Negative words dominate their exist­ence. They hear them at home, on the street, and in school. Like other children, African-American males form their self­ perception from significant others in their lives as well as surround­ing conditions and circumstances. They encounter several hundred messages from their homes, communities, television, movies, and videos that limit, restrict, deflate, and destroy their dreams and negatively impact their views of themselves. These messages are often met with anger and frustration as these young men find themselves facing a bleak future. Hopelessness, alienation, and helplessness emerge in their behavior patterns as they unleash their penned up emotions on their teachers, classmates, friends, family members, and strangers, but more often other African-American  males.

Given these alarming circumstances this article will:

(a) address the power of words as they are used in the home, school and community;

(b) underscore the impottance of parents and educators being mindful of the potency of words;

(c) stress the need for thoughtful use of words; and

(d) finally suggest verbal pitfalls to avoid in dealing with African-American males.


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