Nigger, boongs, krauts, wogs, wetbacks, cartels. These words do not have meanings to J Rose from Mullumbimby (Letters, 19 July). J Rose has meanings for words and context reveals what these meanings are for him. Perhaps the meaning of the word golliwogs for J Rose is just a doll for children to play with. A soft doll with bright clothes and fuzzy hair is now regarded as an offensive racist caricature. Since the 20th century the word has been considered a racial slur towards black people.
The context that reveals the meaning of the word Hottentot is the discrimination, dispossession and degradation that the First Nations people of South Africa were subjected to by the European invaders in the 17th and 18th century.
Racism lurks in many plant and animal names. Fortunately, ‘we can now choose language that reflects our shared values,’ says Jessica Ware, an entomologist and president-elect of the Entomological Society of America (ESA). Recently ESA removed the term ‘gypsy’ from its common names for two insects: ‘the gypsy moth’ and the ‘gypsy ant’ because it was considered a slur for the Romani people.
In Australia Blackboy Ridge nature reserve was told to change its name due to cultural insensitivity. The term was used to refer to the tree because of its supposed resemblance to a grass-skirted dark-skinned person bearing a spear, and historically for an Indigenous man who might be employed as a servant or assistant.
For J Rose and some Australians, the name cartel may be seen as a cool name for musical groups and eateries but for Mexicans the context that reveals the meaning of that word is drugs, violence, fear, corruption and human rights abuse. The use of the term cartel glorifies the origin of the word and disrespects those who have suffered under the control of such death squads.
I would strongly advise J Rose to respect the perspectives and education of First Nations people and other cultures and not to rely on old dictums that words do not have meanings; we have meanings for words. That may help open his/her mind and broaden his/her education.