Words Matter

This learning block represents one week’s work. Aim to watch at least one video and choose at least one activity or project to complete. 

Watch The Video…

Let’s think through the words we use around race and racism. The words we use matter a lot.

Choose some activities

Activity #1: Positive/Negative

WRite & Think:

  • What positive terms can you think of with the word white? 
  • What negative terms can you think of with the word black?

Note that there are more positive expressions with white and more negative ones with black. Associations with dirt and evil go back centuries, but the 16th century solidified the connection.


Why is ‘black’ always a bad word? | Editorials

“Consider: Black market. Blacklist. Black eye. Black out. Black box. Black mood. Black magic. Black death. Black sheep. Black face. Black hand. Black head. Black hole. Blackshirt. Blackmail. Blackleg. Blackball. Black mark. The list goes on and on.”

Why does this matter?

  • This word association can lead to an implicit attitude where white = good and black = bad. Remember the results of the implicit bias test from the Are You Biased session
  • This use of languages reinforces stereotypes and supports anti-Black racism

Note that this doesn’t only apply to the coded meanings of terms, but also about how certain events are covered.

Examples: Kate’s pregnancy vs Meghan’s, or description of young white men with guns vs young Black men with guns. 

There are also other forms of linguistic bias, like using mental or physical disabilities as insults.

Activity #2: Flip the Switch

WRite & Think:

  • What negative terms  can you think of with the word white?
  • What positive terms can you think of with the word black? 

Research the meanings of any you don’t know.


Positive expressions with black:

  • Black belt
  • Being in the black
  • Dark chocolate
  • Black tie event
  • Dark roast coffee
  • Black credit card
  • Little black dress
  • The new black

Negative expressions with white

  • Light/lightweight
  • White bread
  • Vanilla = plain, boring
  • White feather – cowardice
  • White elephant

Activity #3: Exploring common expressions

Visit the Language Matters Instagram account.

Pick  an expression, read the slides and caption. Reflect on what you have learned. Here are some to start you off, but feel free to explore the whole account.


Is it OK to mention race?

Think About:

  • Is it simply descriptive
  • Is it relevant
  • Is it a way of othering

They say: sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me. Is that true?

Further REading:

7 Phrases Everyone Needs to Stop Using to Describe Black People

  • Thug – who do you picture; look up the actual meaning and see it could be anyone
  • Inner city/urban – lots of people live there but often a coded reference to Black populated area
  • Ghetto – a place where minority groups live or are exiled as in WW2. Often pejorative to Black culture
  • Uppity – again, predominantly used to refer to Black people 
  • Shady – overtones of skin color in disparaging actions

Speak Up at School