I’ve never been comfortable with the designation, “Hispanic.” I see myself as being of Latin origin, a descendent of those who spoke a romance language — in my case, Spanish rather than French or Italian. I have no knowledge of any language known as “Hispanic.” Hispania was a province of the Roman Empire. I also bridle at Latino or Latina — diminutive as well as gender labels. Why the diminutive? France, Italy, and Spain colonized much of the world. They were never Lilliputians.
Given my personal sensitivity to labels, I’m never certain about labels for other ethnic groups. Should I call descendants of Africa African-Americans? Or are they Black? My personal choice would be African-Americans, designating people by their place of origin rather than skin color. Still, Black Lives Matter is the watchword of the day.
Language matters when people address one another. Failing to understand mores within the diverse cultures of our nation leads to mutual distrust. That’s why I was interested in an article in the August 2017 edition of Wired. (“Cop Talk: The Sound of Bias.” pg. 20.) Jennifer Eberhardt, a social psychologist at Stanford, leads a team of “computational linguists” to codify and analyze how traffic police speak to the public. Aided by tapes from their body cameras, she set out to determine if law enforcement officers revealed a racial bias in their speech.
So far, the study of 36,000 encounters do show a bias. For example, officers subjected racial minorities to a greater number of questions than the whites they stopped. They were also less inclined to explain to minorities the reason for the pullover. In general, their language to people of color was disrespectful.
Eberhardt hopes the study will make officers aware of their unconscious habits, and that police academies will address these habits. What’s in a word? Plenty.