July-August 2024 61
Normalising racist euphemism
Loaded racist language is intended to fudge
circumstance-driven fear and foreigner-oriented hatred
By J Vivian Cooke
ith words, who said them, how
they are said, where and when
they are said, even what is not
said can matter as much as
what is being said. The richness
of the English language lies in the ability of its
wide vocabulary, infused with Norman and
Anglo-Saxon influences to convey nuance and
emphasis: the fine distinctions in meaning and
subtle shifts in tone that are not captured by a
dictionary definition.
Understandings among interlocutors of
context, shared references, and intent
generally determine meaning in language. This
is why text messages cannot capture tone and
why humour does not survive literal analysis.
Misunderstandings of these mutual
frameworks generate difficulties from
tribalisms such as “Ooh Ahh/Up the Ra” and
“From the mountains to the sea/ Palestine will
be free”. These protest chants are often
intended to express simply a form of
nationalism or solidarity that is entirely
independent of support for terrorism or for
extinction of another tribe. Those enmeshed in
controversy for using these chants have
typically suggested that they were genuinely
unaware of the inflammatory meanings of their
words for people in another tribe.
It has been the furtive objective of racist
agitators to exploit this feature of language to
insert their catchphrases into national
discourses and normalise them through
repetition. Racist agitators use social media to
insinuate their catchphrases into national
discourses and to normalise them though
What was once unsayable becomes
acceptable. This process is shifting the Overton
window, of what is acceptable in the civilised
Venting phrases with a double meaning
allows the speaker to switch from the literal to
the coded meaning at convenience; a tactic
that is both dishonest and cowardly: allowing
the speaker to escape from any responsibility
for the meaning inferred.
It is immaterial to the inherent racism if this
transmutation occurs consciously or
unconsciously — because the strategy seeks
to blur the distinction between
What was once unsayable
becomes acceptable
circumstance-driven personal beliefs and the
racism that may be perceived to be by others.
When racist euphemisms become
normalised, neutral words can find themselves
in the service of calculated racism. Media often
report the literal words of anti-immigrant
protestors without sucient context to show
that the chants or the slogans may not be
intended as appropriations of the racism of
Because racism is inherently nasty,
alienating and ‘othering’ it can only gain
acceptance among reasonable people if it is
expressed in language that disguises its
Once racists have loaded a phrase, it can
appear racist even in the hands of non-racists.
This sleight has been manifest before our eyes
in recent months in Ireland.
Racism emerges from hatred and fear. The
former is the more noxious motivation, but, it
is of no consolation to the victims of racism if
the latter is the cause of their suering. Fear
can be both genuine and misplaced at the
same time; even if a fear (of foreigners) is
genuinely felt, if it is irrational or misplaced,
then it is not and cannot be an excuse for the
violence and racism we have witnessed in
recent months.
Hate-driven racist agitators down the ages
have deliberately stoked fear of foreigners and
they use the fear that they generate to advance
their insidious agenda.
There are enough racists deliberately using
euphemisms without well-meaning but fearful
people making themselves indistinguishable
from haters.
Compassion and sympathy are insucient
to stop the slip into racism. Clarity and care are
necessary to prevent us falling into the trap the
racists have set for us.
Ireland says no I say no
No to open borders No to immigrants
Irish lives matter Black lives matter less than Irish
Ireland is full – (even though there are 163,000
empty homes in Ireland)
I don’t like how many foreigners are here
Men of military age / Unvetted men - (Referring
to adult men, often fleeing persecution or war)
Muslim men
Illegal immigrants – (referring to people
availing of the legal asylum process)
Asylum seekers
I’m afraid for the safety of women and children Foreign-looking men are all rapists
Common-sense policies Racist policies
I object to unsuitable accommodation for
asylum seekers
I object to any accommodation for asylum
Local protestors Local protestors and far-right agitators
Protests 1. Intimidation, 2. Public order oences
Failure to consult Failure to allow me a veto
I’m not racist I am racist but I want to hide that fact


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