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Sunday, November 22, 2009


A phrase crossed my screen today which triggered my "language alert" radar.

an open letter to Samuel Kivuitu, written by Shailja Patel, who is a Kenyan of Asian extraction.....

The word extraction makes sense when talking about vegetable juice. Or the processing of mineral ores. Or even blackhead removal in facials.

But I'm not feeling it in the context of ethnicity or racial heritage. It suggests that I was put through a grinder of Asian, then filtered through a fine-mesh sieve of Asian, to arrive at - hey presto - my current state of freshly juiced, pulp-free Asian extraction.

Descent or heritage would be a better fit. Or just plain ethnicity. If you want to get really specific: phenotype.

The language itself is a pointer to the underlying question - why is my ethnicity relevant in this context?

Answer: It isn't.

Motion: That it be noted that extraction is a physical and chemical process - not a signifier of ethnicity or phenotype. That references to ethnic extraction be excised from descriptions of persons unless they have a clear and obvious relevance to the subject matter.

All in favour: Aye.

So moved.

Meeting of the Language Misuse Committee adjourned.


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