Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bad Word

Last month, Rhode Island’s Legislature approved a proposal to allow a ballot referendum in 2010 to change the state’s official name from “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” to simply “State of Rhode Island.” According to The Providence Journal, “Proponents of the name change say the word ‘plantations’ is offensive to the African-American community because it conjures up images of slavery.”
Sarah Vowel. A Plantation to Be Proud Of
Of all of the things that people find offensive, I must admit that I think it strange that being considered “thin skinned to the point of absurdity” is not among them.

But I have a bigger question. If the very word “plantation” is offensive, because of a connotation of slavery, what does one call a plantation? If you come up with a word that is still specific to what was once called a plantation, you might have a useful euphemism, but the new word will simply acquire all of the baggage that plantation has, and you’re back at square one. On the other hand, if you simply call them “farms” or something, to avoid conjuring up images of slavery, don’t you run the risk of effectively whitewashing a part of American history?

And should white people be offended by the negative connotations of the term “whitewashing,” and its association with coverups and disingenuousness? Just asking.


Keifus said...

Rhode Island has a pretty solid legacy of slavery, believe it or not. They made a lot of money as the banking and shipping arm (more or less), and special dispensation was granted to continue well after slavery was outlawed in the state. There was a recent-ish documentary about it. They might be a hair sensitive these days.

Aaron said...

That doesn't surprise me at all. After all, it was one of the original 13 colonies. And I understand their sensitivity to the issue. But it seems strange to cloak that in other people's sensitivity, if you understand my meaning.