Protests and racism – English vocabulary

Learn the English you need to join the conversations on racism and social injustice.

Join Vicki and Jay while they prepare signs for their own protest and learn the words you need to join the global conversation on social injustice.
We’ll look at:
– different kinds of protests: marches, rallies, demonstrations
– violence in the streets: rioting, looting, curfews, pepper spray, tear gas
– how to use the words racism, racist and systemic racism
– African American vs. black
– rights vs. civic duties
– current phrases like black lives matter, racial profiling, white privilege and to be/get woke.
And finally watch Jay and Vicki’s demonstration!

We’re living at a time of huge protests.
Racism, social injustice, police brutality. So in today’s lesson, you’ll learn lots of vocabulary about protests and demonstrations.
So you can follow and participate in discussions and debates.
And make your voice heard.
And make the world a better place.
We live in Philadelphia in the US and there have been huge protests here in the last few weeks.
About the death of George Floyd.
That’s the African American man who died when a policeman in Minneapolis had his knee on George’s neck.
We didn’t join the protests here because of COVID-19 and social distancing.
We wanted to but the global pandemic stopped us.
So we’re going to hold our own protest instead.
Really?
Yep. Here’s your paint.
Uh oh.
What were you like in art class when you were a child.
A complete failure.
Really?
Absolutely.
Why does that not surprise me?
The word protest is tricky because of the pronunciation. When it’s a noun, the stress is on the first syllable.
A PROtest.
But when it’s a verb, in British English, the stress moves to the second syllable. To proTEST.
But in American English, I can say to proTEST, or to PROtest.
It’s a British and American difference.
But American English is easier.
I went to the women’s march in Philadelphia.
Was it dangerous?
No. It was a lot of fun. Erm, and the best thing was the signs. They were very witty. Witty means clever and funny.
A march is a kind of protest where you walk from one place to another.
And we also have rallies. That’s when you stay in one place.
In the UK, rallies are generally protests. But what about the US?
Well some are4 protests, but we also have rallies to show support for political candidates.
I’ve been to one of those too!
Oh yes. What did you think of it?
It was interesting. Very different to the UK.
Another word with a similar meaning to protest is demonstrate. That’s the verb.
And the noun would be demonstration.
Rioting is when a crowd of people behave in a violent way.
In the first few days in Philadelphia, some of the protests were peaceful, but there was also some rioting.
And there was also looting. Looting is when people break into buildings and stores and steal things.
And the city imposed a curfew.
That’s a law that says you can’t go outside at night after a particular time. There are diffferent words we use with curfew.
You can set a curfew. You can violate a curfew.
You violate a curfew if you’re outside past the hour the police have said you have to be inside.
Yes. And at the end of the curfew, they lift the curfew.
Right. That’s when you can go outside again.
But then things started to quiet down, didn’t they?
Yes.
And it’s actually been very peaceful for weeks now.
There was a brief moment when the police fired tear gas and pepper spray at protesters to get them off the highway, But since then it’s been pretty quiet.
I’ll tell you what though Jay. We had a lot of police helicopters flying overhead.
Well, I think they were mostly news helicopters.
Oh, do you?
Yes.
Riots and looting make good television.
Yes, shots of peaceful protests don’t attract so many viewers.
So we haven’t felt at all threatened by the protests in Philadelphia, have we?
No, we’ve felt really quite safe here.
We’re more worried about COVID-19.
We’re concerned that two weeks after the protests, a lot of people might be sick.
All the recent protests in Philadelphia have been about police brutality. Brutality means violent and cruel behavior. But I think it’s more than that.
They have been about racism. They have been about….
Yeah.
Black lives matter.
So racism is the belief that people of one race are better than people of another race.
And it’s also the unfair treatment of a race, because of that belief.
And a racist is a person. It’s someone who believes their race is better than others.
And they discriminate against people and treat them unfairly.
The word racist can be an adjective too. We could talk about racist attitudes, racist beliefs.
A racist attack.
Right, right.
And you’ll also hear the term systemic racism.
Ah yes.
If someone doesn’t give you a job because your skin is black, then it’s racism on an individual level. But when being black has meant that you can’t get access to good health care, or housing, or a good education, then it’s systemic racism.
It’s about the racism that’s built into the way society works.
There’s broad agreement that the murder of George Floyd was terrible, but there’s some disagreement about the term systemic racism. And some people say it doesn’t exist.
But things are changing. The Merriam-Webster dictionary is going to update its definition of racism. It’s going to include systemic racism as well.
The way we refer to black people in America has changed over the decades.
Are both these terms acceptable. African American and black.
Yes, they’re both acceptable.
And which one… What’s the difference?
Well African American refers to a person’s ethnicity.
And black refers more to race?
That’s correct.
So it’s more about physical characteristics rather than culture.
Mmhmm.
OK.
And what about in the past? What terms shouldn’t we use?
Well in the 1950s and 1960s we used the term negro to refer to black or African American people.
And we also used the term colored, which was really offensive. So we don’t use that either any more.
OK.
Something I’ve noticed about America, Jay, is that American’s are much more conscious of their ethnic identity than we are in the UK.
Well yes. This is a country of immigrants, of course. But we never melted together into a homogeneous society. Instead, we’ve sort of remained separated into our ethnic groups. Irish Americans and Italian Americans and Polish Americans and so forth.
I know but it carries on for generations.
Oh right.
So, I mean, I’ve met people here who’ve said ‘I’m Irish American’ and I’ve said ‘Oh, where are you from in Ireland?’ and they said ‘Oh, no, no. My great grandmother was Irish.’ And then I start thinking about it and I think, wow, I’m more Irish than them. You know, but I never think of myself as being Irish, or German, or, you know, the different sort of roots that I come from. I think of myself as English, or British, or European or whatever.
And then there’s the issue of what right do we have to protest. And that’s quite strong, that feeling in America, isn’t it?
Well, it comes from the first amendment to the constitution, which gives us the right of free speech, the right to protest the government…
The right to assemble in groups…
Right. And a free press.
That’s right.
And we have similar rights, in fact you got those rights really copying the rights we have in the UK.
No, they were invented in America.
There’s something that I’ve become more conscious of here and maybe it’s a British and American thing, or maybe it’s just because I’m getting older.
Mmm.
But, there’s the idea of the right to free speech being your right – it’s something you are able to do – but there’s also the idea here I think of it being a civic duty. It’s the correct thing to do and something you should do, so if you see injustice, you should speak up.
So as a result of the protests after George Floyd was killed, people have become more aware of the effects and the extent of racism in America.
Yeah, they’ve got woke.
Huh?
That’s my new expression. It has African American origins. If you are woke or you get woke, then you become aware of racism.
Just a few years ago, people disagreed about the phrase ‘black lives matter’.
So if somebody said ‘black lives matter’, other people would say ‘yes, but all lives matter’. Which is kind of missing the point, because it’s the black lives that are being discriminated against. It’s dangerous to be black in America.
If you’re black, you’re much more likely to be stopped by the police and mistreated.
Another phrase you’ll hear is ‘racial profiling’.
That’s when the police suspect somebody has committed a crime because of their appearance, rather than because there’s any evidence.
For example, many more black people get stopped and searched than white people, because of racial profiling.
I think American companies have got more woke as well.
Oh yeah. We’ve seen a series of companies coming out and expressing their new understanding of black lives matter.
There was a really great video on social media the other day put out by a black mother. And she said ‘If you’ve never felt
fear in your heart when a policeman stopped you, then you have white privilege.
A privilege is a special right or advantage that a person or group has. So what is white privilege?
Well, it’s the expectation that you won’t be beaten by police, that if you’re arrested, you’ll be treated fairly, that if you need a loan, you’ll get it. That if you need an education to get a good job, you’ll get it. In the US, African Americans don’t have that expectation.
I think we have a lot to learn about the extent of racial injustice.
It’s good that these discussions are happening.
We need educating.
I’ll tell you something I found very heartening though too, was all the protests around the world.
It was moving, especially when there’s a global pandemic.
Yeah, gathering in large crowds is strongly warned against in many places.
And actually illegal in others.
But I think the message struck a chord, because there were so many protests.
Yes, if a message strikes a chord, it makes people feel sympathy and enthusiasm.
One of the interesting things that’s going on now in the protests are attacks on statues of people who have had negative impacts on the African American community.
It’s been happening all over the world too. In the UK, they’ve been removing statues of slave traders.
And in Belgium, they’ve removed statues of Leopold II.
Historians estimate that he was responsible for ten million deaths in Africa.
And in the US, it’s often statues of generals in the confederate army.
So military leaders from the side that lost the civil war.
But even more recent politicians have had their statues attacked. One of them is here in Philadelphia.
Yes, there was a politician in Philadelphia called Frank Rizzo, and you knew him, didn’t you?
I knew him very well. He was first the police commissioner in Philadelphia when I was a young reporter here. And then he ran for mayor and became mayor for two terms – for eight years.
At one time he told Philadelphians to vote white. He was racist.
He was definitely racist. In fact he attacked the Black Panther party in 1967 and had all its members stand outside naked while he called in the reporters and photographers. He was not a very nice guy.
But he was popular with some people, wasn’t he?
He was extremely popular. Particularly in the white ethnic communities in Philadelphia.
And what happened when you published a negative story about him?
I covered a story about Rizzo and the free press. It was a negative story and his supporters didn’t like it, as I learned later that night. I went outside to my car in the television station’s parking lot and found that all four tires on my car had been slashed flat.
Are those all the signs?
Yes, well done Jay! You were a good painter after all.
So what happens now?
It’s time to demonstrate.
Oh!
This was a common phrase in the 1960s when we were protesting against the Viet Nam war, but I think it’s still relevant today.
This is the idea that if you see injustice, you should speak up. If you stay silent, you’re part of the problem.
This has become a powerful message for change and it’s struck a chord all around the world.
This is a phrase we use when we think something shouldn’t continue any longer. For example, we’ve been ignoring climate change for too long. Enough is enough.
This is about voting being our duty. If we don’t vote, democracy will be destroyed.
This is about joining together to fight for what’s right.
What does it say in the middle?
When – when we are united. I forgot the n.
This has become a political issue in the US. I don’t know why. Please, just wear a mask.
This is my new favourite phrase. It means get educated so you become aware of racial injustice.
And that’s it everyone, but I have a question. If you made a sign, what would you write on it?
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Bye-bye
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