Theme I & M
- What images do you associate with the phrase
- What images do you associate with the phrase "Black
If we say the future looks black then we
mean it doesn't look good. In school did your teachers ever
say "you will get a black mark for doing that"?
And what they meant was that it wasn't a good mark! Is black
always associated with bad things - and by association are
black people bad?
• How values are transmitted through
• Stereotypes and prejudice
• The dangers of using language
in an uncritical way
• To be aware that language is not
• To be aware of how language may
reflect discrimination against minorities.
• To learn to appreciate the importance
of using non-discriminatory language.
Any number which can be broken down into
working groups of 6-8
• One large sheet of paper and marker
• An enlarged copy of the table
pinned up so everyone can see it
1. Divide the group into sub-groups of
6 to 8 people.
2. Ask each group to find a place to work
in the room.
3. Give a piece of paper and a marker pen
to each group and ask them to copy the following table:
4. Explain that this activity is about the
language we use and that they must think of expressions
which include words such as white, black, Indian, Roma (Gypsy),
Jew, Arab, Russian, etc. As they come up with an expressions
think about how the word is used. If the phrase has a positive
connotation write the phrase in the first column, if it
has a neutral connotation write it in the second and if
it has a negative connotation in third. For example, the
expression "The future looks black" refers to
an uncertain and troubled future so put it in the third
column. In England we talk about "an Indian summer"
when the weather is good in the early autumn. Indian would
go in the first column. Allow about 15 minutes for this
part of the activity.
5. Now ask the groups to look at the phrases
in the third column, the ones with negative connotations,
and suggest alternative expressions. Write them down in
the fourth column, which can be titled "alternative
6. When the groups are finished display
the work sheets and ask each group to read out the different
expressions they have found
Debriefing and evaluation
The evaluation should be centred around
the expressions found:
• Which column was the fullest?
• What kinds of words do we find
in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd columns?
• Since language is not neutral,
what values does our language reflect about our own culture
and about other cultures?
• Is it important to use a language
which does not carry negative connotations about other cultures?
• If so, how should we change our
Tips for the facilitator
If the group is an international group, it may be interesting
to divide the participants into groups according to their
mother tongue in order to make a comparative analysis.
Sometimes the debate that occurs after this activity turns
into the discussion about "politically correct"
language. This is not the purpose of the activity, but rather
to reflect on why it is more common to give positive connotations
to the word "white" than to the word "black"
or "gypsy" and vice-versa. However, if the question
is raised, you should deal with it rather than ignore it.
Often participants argue that when they use expressions
such as "She's in a black mood", meaning a bad
mood, they are not thinking about black people and they
are not discriminating against anybody. In this case it
is important to differentiate personal attitudes from the
values transmitted by the language. Very often we use phrases
without being aware of their origins and therefore the values
implicit in them. This is a similar debate to the discussion
about sexist language in many idioms.
Suggestions for follow up
Ask everyone to be aware of how they use
language and of how others use it, when talking, in the
media and in advertising. Have a competition to find examples
of phrases which are used deliberately to further prejudice
or discrimination, or to find the origins of commonly used
You can take an even deeper look at the
role of the media in transmitting and perpetuating prejudice
and in 'Media biases' or if you enjoy
words and puns, look at 'Eurojoke contest'
to explore the implications of telling jokes both for those
who tell them and those against whom they are told.
If you are interested in exploring further
the relationships between images and values, then you may
like to do the activity, '"Draw-the–word"
game' in Compass. You could use the method and
work with the words people thought of when they were thinking
of 'White futures'. Alternatively you could
use the method to move on and explore the images and values
inherent in the human rights concepts of "the right
to life" or "freedom from torture".