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The Language of Prejudice and Historical Perspective Essay

Can you imagine living in a world, in which we judge people by the labels that are branded onto their head at the instantaneous moment of birth? According to Gordon Allport, in “The Language of Prejudice”, he believes that “Without words we should scarcely be able to form categories at all” (217). This statement is valid, because today historical events such as the Rwanda genocide have been labeled as a category of “genocide”. And because of this categorization of the Hutu and Tutsi; they became victims of the “nouns that cut slices” (218), a phrase that Allport uses for “the names that help us to perform the clustering” (218). The Rwanda genocide also opened the eyes of the people to Allport’s idea of “emotionally toned labels” (220); the labels of being a Hutu and Tutsi had many connotations both bad consequently leading to their clash because of the “misunderstanding lie in the fact that minority group members are sensitive to such shadings, while majority members may employ them unthinkingly” (222).

Also the idea of the verbal realism and symbol phobia label was infringed upon the two categories of Hutu and Tutsis; if one was to look bigger height wise or width wise they were to be suspected as a Tutsi and immediately executed, thus proving Allport’s idea that, “Most individuals rebel at being labeled, especially if the label is uncomplimentary” (222). For these reasons, the historical event of the Rwanda genocide has became a primary target of Allport’s “The Language of Prejudice” containing multiple labels that Allport discusses, thus making his point of prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes valid. These “nouns that cut slices” (218), being so vital and valid have occurred in the historical event, the Rwanda genocide. At first, Allport introduces us to the “empirical world of human beings where there are some two and half billion grains of sand..” (218), he explains to us that our world has an exponential amount of human beings that differ like the spots on a cheetah, and our natural instinct is to “separate entities” (218) in order to form clusters.

For example, the separation of Hutus and Tutsi based on their beliefs and physical looks created two separate barrels of grains that opposed each other, thus causing tension between both parties. And by looking back at Allport’s belief that “nouns cut slices” (218) has actually kept its valid argument that “We must group them, form clusters” (218). However, even though these two groups are quite similar, for example speaking the same language, inhabit the same areas, and follow the same traditions; however, their physical appearances such as height and width, Tutsis being taller and thinner than Hutus the ability to visually label Tutsis as the minority led to their bodies being thrown into the water. And as Allport once again shows us, that “those of primary potency, distracts our attention from concrete reality” (219) preventing people of the same culture and blood to bond and treat each other as a “grain” rather than an “empirical sand heap” (217).

Regardless of the “empirical heap” (217), the two labels that affected Hutus and Tutsi are the “less emotional and more emotional labels” (220) that led to their deep hatred towards each other and finally the mass genocide. In the ethnic sphere of Rwanda, the terms Hutu and Tutsi were equivalent to the American politics of Democrat and Republican or Bloods and Crips gang. These words have deep, harsh connotations that have negative effects when used to describe someone. For example, in Rwanda the killers could go to door to door and ask the residents one question, and if it was an answer of Tutsi they would immediately be slaughtered on the spot. Looking at labels from this point of view forces “them” into a “rejective category” (220) a category where the name shall not be announced aloud during and conversation because of the consequences that follow it. Allport says it clearly that “no Negro has a black complexion, but by comparison with other blonder stocks, he has to be knows as a ‘‘‘black man’” (221) and because we as human beings are quick to judge and are lazy to label someone as a something that they are not.

For instance, Hutus would be forced to go to neighboring Tutsi’s houses and commit murder under military personnel. Afraid to follow their own morals, they suffocate under the social pressure of killing innocent people because of the harsh emotional label that is placed upon them. Instead of color distinction like Allport illustrates for us, “black velvet is agreeable…yellow tulips are well liked” (221) the true color of the Hutus and Tutsis were the same, the only difference was prejudice minds of the Hutus whether they liked someone or not Hutu or Tutsi they would kill because of the death of their leader; and again Allport enlightens us the truth in this when he says “Grounds for misunderstanding lie in the fact that minority group members are sensitive to such shadings, while majority member may employ them unthinkingly” (222). The fact that groups in general don’t use their morals, yet their ideas and social standards to run their lives is a label in itself; a verbal realism and symbol phobia.

The Rwanda genocide relates to Allport’s idea of “unsavory labels” (225), for example he illustrates to us a “community of white people banded together to force out a Negro family that had moved in” (225). Because the social standard is at a certain category or level of skin color doesn’t mean that there needs to be a gang of violence to force out the minority. For example, after the death of President Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda, a Hutu, he excluded all Tutsi’s from participation in political decisions. But after the death the Hutu’s suspected an assassination and retaliated by physically and emotionally forcing out the Tutsi’s out of Rwanda.

By simply being a Tutsi you were symbolically branded as a dead man, child, or woman. According to Allport, “When symbols provoke strong emotions they are sometimes regarded no longer as symbols, but as actual things” (225). That’s when we ask ourselves how the label is used in context, “will it send some people into a panic or a frenzy of anger” (226). And looking from the event of Rwanda we can see that not only angered the Hutus, sent the Tutsis into hiding scared running away from a label that was placed onto them from birth; an inevitable death. There this leaves us with Allport’s belief that “prejudice is due in large part to verbal realism and to symbol phobia” (226), is valid and hasn’t changed its idea of discrimination.

After learning about the Rwanda genocide, the aspect and affect that this historical moment has on the perspective of Gordon Allport’s “The Language of Prejudice” takes a microscopic look at the multiple labels that can be branded upon anyone and affect their way of life entirely. Allport suffocates us with his philosophy of labels and how they can change our mentality on how we look at people the prejudice aspect of it all. Through osmosis we can attempt at learning from Allport ideology and forget the “empirical sand heap” (217). And by taking in these historical events and applying them to our social standards we can achieve the goal of Allport and live a world where “race is unscientific” (222) and “imprecise” (219), a life of human beings, not animals.

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