There are more words and idioms rooted in racism than you think.
In the latest segment on MTV’s “Decoded,” an online series that looks at race and social issues with a comedic lens, host Franchesca Ramsey explains the racist origin of six common words and phrases.
Ramsey says her intent isn’t to police people and what they say, but rather to inform people of the history behind certain terms. “Understanding where these words and phrases come from is an important part of understanding how racism and oppression have shaped the world we live in today,” she says.
Here are three descriptions of words and phrases that you should know the origin of:
1. “The Peanut Gallery”
“In the 1920’s, the peanut gallery was the theater balcony where black folks were forced to sit due to segregation,” Ramsey says. “In some places, it was even called the n-word gallery.”
2. “Sold me down the river.”
This idiom, usually used to express betrayal, takes quite a literal meaning — it references slaves being sold down the Mississippi River. “Slaveowners would punish disruptive slaves by selling them to plantations in the Deep South where conditions were much harder,” Ramsey says.
3. “Gyppd” or “Gypsy”
Ramsey said that even though the other phrases she mentioned in the video have little offense today, the g-word, which she censors in the video, is actually a racial slur used to refer to Romni people, originally from India. “Throughout history, the Romani have been stereotyped as untrustworthy, which has been used to justify their mistreatment,” she said. “When they first came to Europe, Europeans incorrectly assumed they were from Egypt and thus, the g-word was born.” Ramsey said that since the g-word still offends the Romani people today, “I’d hope we can agree to live without it. But nowadays the other phrases are pretty harmless.”
Check out the video above to learn more about the origins of three other phrases and words.