Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Not Racist

I have a friend that's Nigerian.  She actually speaks 4 languages, since she's extremely well-traveled.

The other day I wanted to ask her if there were any 'clicks' in her Nigerian language, but Annie stopped me, telling me that it was a racist question.  I disagreed, but I didn't ask to make Annie happy.

Last night at The Pub, I finally asked.  I really wanted to know.  My Nigerian friend also thought it was racist.  I think that's bullshit.  The only thing that is slightly racist might be calling them 'clicks'.

  1. The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as...
  2. Prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.

Ignorant?  Yes.  Otherwise I wouldn't have asked.  Racist?  Not by definition, nor by intent.  I know that there are versions of 'clicks' in at least one African language.  I know of them from The Lion King on Broadway.  I was so obsessed with that show, that I can actually spell the opening sequence in whatever language it is in:  "ingonyama negw'enamabala".  NO I didn't just look that up.  That's off the top of my head.  It might be spelled a little wrong, but at some point in my life there was legitimate interest in African languages because I wanted to know what they were saying.  I once went to a table session with some of the actors from The Lion King during its long Toronto run.  In the middle the discussion, they actually had the whole audience try to make the three different clicking sounds that they use in the songs.

Some of the 'clicks' are found at 0:10 and 0:29 in this song:

South Park, now that's racist.  However, that's the only other time I can think of coming in contact with an African language.  Though it's likely fake, the little Ethiopian 'clicks'.  Though Ethiopia is much closer to Tanzania (where The Lion King likely takes place, since it's in the Serengeti) than Nigeria, is it that awful to wonder if clicks happen elsewhere on the continent?

There are definitely times when I'm racist.  There are definitely times when I don't mean to be racist, but I am.  (For example, the other day Annie and I joked about knocking on a friend's door and hiding.  I didn't know what to call it, since I was raised calling it ni**er-knocking.  I also have to stop myself every time I fix something with duct tape, since I was always taught that was called ni**er-rigging, or in this case ni**er-ri**ing.)  Yes, those are racist, even if I don't mean them to be.  This incident, however, definitely was not.

And no, there are no 'clicks' in her Nigerian dialect,


  1. It's really not that different from asking if Greek has a W sound or Spanish has a J sound, which I don't think is racist. Curious? Yes. Uninformed? Sure. Racist? Not really.

  2. Stopping by from 20SB. I think you meant "cliques" here. Happy Tuesday!

  3. Not racist to call it clicks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Click_consonant

    I have some Nigerian friends too, and I was curious about their dialects. Pretty much everywhere people speak pidgin English (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_African_Pidgin_English) but as I understand it there are probably hundreds of tribal dialects.

    I'm not really sure if ignorance is a valid defense in this case. But maybe next time you should try a little research first: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khoisan_languages

  4. I actually think he means "clicks" as in...the physical sound of a click. Clique implies a group of people, click refers to the sound (in this case, a particular sound in a language).

    I don't think it was racist, but perhaps phrasing it would have been a better way to go about it.

    "I know some languages incorporate clicks into their dialect, is yours one of those languages?"

    Something like that sounds more like an inquiry.