Aussie Life

Language

18 June 2022

9:00 AM

18 June 2022

9:00 AM

The word ‘emergency’ has been part of the English language since around 1630. Its most common political use today is (as expressed by the Oxford English Dictionary): ‘as a political term to describe a condition approximating to that of war…’. Approximating war, okay? That’s how it should be used. But is that how our pollies use it? The South Australian Parliament has passed a motion declaring there is a ‘global climate emergency’ – which seems rather beyond their remit (rather like South Hurstville council declaring a ‘nuclear-free zone’). At the same time every other state government insists on retaining powers they call ‘Covid emergency powers’ – despite the existence of Covid vaccines and treatments. In both cases the word ‘emergency’ is being politically abused. When I point out that at the moment Ukraine has an emergency and Australia does not – the absurdity of this use of the word by state governments becomes clear. Behind the word ‘emergency’ is the Latin word emergentia meaning ‘to rise up out of water’ – to suddenly appear, presenting something unexpected. Since Covid has been around for two-and-a-half years (and methods of dealing with it have been developed), and since the climate crew has been bombarding us with warnings since the 1980s there has been no sudden appearance, or emergence, of a problem. This misuse of language must, we conclude, be deliberate – an attempt by state governments to hold their populations in fear, while grappling to their breasts additional powers over the lives of individual citizens. An emergency? Not in my book (which happens to be the Oxford Dictionary).

Is it time to revisit how we define the word ‘racism’? Early in the 20th century the settled definition became something along the lines of ‘belief in the superiority of one race over others’. This grew out of Darwinism and the (seemingly logical) conclusion from Darwinian theory that some races are more evolved (superior) and others less evolved (inferior). Those views still exist, of course, but I am proposing a larger, wider view that incorporates that, but goes further. I propose we redefine the word ‘racism’ as meaning ‘making judgements based on race’ – whether those judgements are good or bad, positive or negative. This definition is distilled from a reversal of Martin Luther King’s famous words: ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.’ The opposite is, of course, basing judgements on ‘the colour of their skin’ – on their race. When we decline to respect and judge people as individuals based on the content of their character, but instead judge them on the racial grouping they belong to that, I suggest, must be understood as racist. This is a hot topic in Australia at the moment because of the proposal that members of one race be granted, under our constitution, a vote and Voice denied to members of other races. It seems to me linguistically sound to call such a proposal ‘constitutionalised racism’.

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