Saturday, November 11, 2017

America's Racism Translator: A Lesson Plan in Code-Switching

“Part of what he talked about was a 'war on crime' 
but that was one of those code-words... 
which really was referring to the black political movements of the day...
the anti-war movement, 
the movements for women's liberation and gay liberation

James Kilgore

The Presentations


You are pitching a sketch based on the popularity of Obama's Anger Translator and adapted to address the way in which media as well as politicians often speak in code on issues that reflect or deepen racial inequalities in order to make them more palatable to an audience sensitive to overt racism. Your overall premise has been approved but the producers need a pilot that demonstrates how the new show "Racial Translations" would work. Together, you and your teach of four will research, write, and perform the short sketch for a test audience.


For this pilot sketch, in 6-8 minutes, your team of four will present a back and forth between two sides, one using language and rhetoric that strategically de-emphasizes racist components of the programs and one side translating that language to demonstrate how the message and systems presented participate in racial divides and inequality. While the inspiration, "Obama's Anger Translator," is intentionally comedic, this program may choose to move in a more measured and serious tone. In any case, avoid yelling racist language even for comedic effect.


In order to communicate the translation clearly, the translation should be broken down into two main points. Point 1 will be presented in code and then the same point will be code-switched by another presenter. Then Point 2 will be presented in code, followed likewise by a translation. All the points should connect in some way to the code-switching exemplified in the documentary, 13th, which the audience will all be familiar with and which will serve as a common point of comparison. Because this is a test audience and pilot, it is important that viewers can understand the sketch and its purpose. To make the connections and goals clear, bring in print out with names, time stamps where the points relate to the film 13th, and a script or list of main points. In response, the test audience will provide feedback at the rate of at least one comment from each of the other teams presenting pilots on the same day.



The Example

In the film, 13th, the documentary offers numerous examples of how media and politicians make statements/laws that avoid language connected with overt racial inequalities but could be translated to demonstrate how they drive wedges between peoples to the seeming benefit of white communities but at the expense of people of color.

A key example of this code-switching occurs in a scene that samples President Nixon's former advisor admitting to how they employed "Law and Order" or "Anti-Drug" language and laws aimed at isolating and undermining progressive movements and people of color.

"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

In this interview, the campaign director effectively acts of his own racial translator. He demonstrates how code-switching racist laws and prejudiced practices into "law and order" language would bring communities on board without having to admit to the racial inequalities being enacted.


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