Eskimo Avenue: Pejorative Arctic ethnonyms as the final frontier of racism?

1 01 2013

At the recent Media for All Conference in London I came across a stall marketing a new division of the subtitling company Broadcast Text International. The rather unfortunate name they have chosen is Eskimo Avenue. It could not have been named Paki Street or Nigger Lane, but it seems that Eskimo Avenue does not raise many eyebrows in our day and age.

avenue

…what Charles Taylor terms misrecognition is a serious problem in the media’s representation of subaltern ethnicities, and in this case in branding:

A person or a group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back a demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being (Taylor 1997: 98).

Unlike some other externally ascribed names for marginalised and oppressed social groups, like “queer” or to some extent “nigger”, “Eskimo” has never been appropriated and resignified by the stateless nations it lumps together and demeans. That is what matters in this case. Whether it originally meant “those who lace snowshoes” or “eaters of raw meat” and whether it came from Cree or Algonquin is irrelevant to its contemporary meaning in political discourse. Over the last 40 years or longer, the “Eskimo” in Canada and Danish-occupied Greenland have asked the wider world to stop using the word.

Read the rest here: Cultural Meanings.

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2 responses

1 01 2013
mpb

In Alaska, “Eskimo” is proudly used and not just by the elders. More frequently, the language sub-group is also used (Yup’ik Eskimo or Cup’ik). Unfortunately, the ignorance with which others misuse the term seems boundless.
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4 01 2013
gold account

and in the eastern Canadian Arctic Inuit. The language is often called Inuktitut, though other local designations are also used.

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