13 May 2010

Is "Folks" a racial slur?

I just listened to an old You Tube video of a "debate" between Dr. Lemont Hill and Bill O'Reilly. Torture as I'm sure you guessed. However, both men slung around the terms "white folks" and "black folks" to the point that we could have held a drinking game and been pounded under the table.

But it got me to thinking. Is using the term "folks" a slur? Sure, we use it in both directions, but it seems a terribly antiquated Southern colloquialism and a rather untoward vestige of a time when (especially) black people were diminutized (ok! So I made that word up) by patronizing an entire community. "Folks" was a word used in polite company to describe a people that aren't as smart as you. When people say "folks", I think of under educated, blue collar, margainalized members of our communities. "Folks" are homespun yokels, which is just a stone's throw from redneck, hillbilly, and white trash. I won't even enter the realm of synonyms that might be used to describe members of the black community if you get my drift.

So I ask. Is "folks" the polite man's racial slur?

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. Folks doesn't have any connotation like that in my upbringing. My grandparents used it as a general term, as far as I can remember ("When I was there, folks at the mill told me that it was a pretty tough job, told me I should take the opportunity to buy this farm") and my own family uses it casually to sounds, well, "folksy." Actually, I think one of my dad's roster of greetings (for meetings or for when he felt like being expansive) when we were growing up was "Evening, folks!"

    That said, there is an extreme danger in arguing about races (or otherwise discussing). It can very quickly become stereotype, parody, or overreaching (by any side of any color). Also, I think because of the pretty dicey history of crypto-racism, just like how you have a hunch folks is a slur, people are uncomfortable with many "group names": Blacks, black people, Whites, white people, African Americans, Caucasians. I think the main thing is not that such terms are invalid or unuseful, but that there's such a weighted history of horrible pronouncements about each other that even reasonable discourse using the terms is tainted (I guess kinda how you're talking about folks). Even when people are assidously careful, it can come off a bit "off."

    So I dunno. I think race should and must be talked about, and don't believe "Folks is just folks" when it comes to what we need to do in society--that is, race isn't irrelevant. But when you start characterizing or talking about whole races, things get dicey, even when you're talking carefully and truthfully, as far as you can.