Opinion: ‘County Freeholder’ and Other Terms You Never Knew Were Racist
Growing up here, I always heard the term county freeholder. I never once gave it a second thought. To me it was just an awkward word for a county commissioner the same way that in some places a constable is an awkward word for a cop.
Turns out I was being racist if I ever said it. The term freeholder, you see, dates back to when free white land owners were the only ones allowed to run for office or participate in elections. Therefore, racist. So now what?
There’s a legislative push to get rid of the term freeholder in New Jersey. State Senator Joseph Pennacchio first came up with a bill in 2018 that would replace freeholder with the word commissioner.
This week we had the big announcement an NFL team was dropping the name Redskins because it was racist. Recently the parent company for the syrup brand Aunt Jemima announced it would abandon their logo and name due to a racist history. Some realtors have said they would no longer be using the term master bath or master bedroom. It would be changed to primary bath and primary bedroom.
Strap in because here come more terms and phrases you never knew were racist.
The way this is used is to describe hearing from hecklers or opinionated people from a crowd who might not be the smartest bunch. But it actually stems from what they called the cheapest and least desirable seats in Vaudeville theater that often were occupied by black people.
Sold down the river
If someone sells you down the river, as a phrase today it means to cheat you, short you, betray you somehow. But it comes from slavery days where masters in the North would take their misbehaving, problem slaves and send them down the Mississippi River to work on plantations in the south where conditions were far worse.
It comes from a Danish word which translates means “eaters of raw meat.” Additional research says it can also mean “snowshoe-netter.” Either way, they say it’s racist to describe someone by what they do.
Totally racist. Paddy was a shortened form of Patrick and was used as a pejorative slam against the Irish. So when you had a perception of drunken Irishman always ending up in trouble and needing to be transported the name Paddy wagon came along.
We think of it as anything that was a waste of money or even time or quality. “That movie was a gyp.” But it’s a short form of gypsy. And a gypsy had a reputation as selling goods and being a swindler. Racist.
Ah the grandfather clause. We regard it as usually a good thing. You were already drinking age but then they raised it. Since you already had this privilege you were “grandfathered in.” What you didn’t know is that it stems from slavery and the right to vote. On Feb. 3, 1870 the 15th amendment was ratified and was meant to bar racial discrimination in voting rights. What did a bunch of racist southern states do? Invented the “grandfather clause.” It said unfair requirements like literacy tests and poll taxes were suspended for anyone who was allowed to vote on or before Jan. 1, 1867. Since blacks weren’t allowed to vote until 1870 the intent was to prohibit many of them from voting. Racist.
Things reach a tipping point. It is used constantly. Guess how it started? It comes from White Flight; whites moving away from a changing neighborhood in the 1950’s. Civil rights leader Will Maslow in 1958 wrote in a letter to the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, “The percentage of minority occupancy that initiates a withdrawal of other tenants has been denominated the 'tipping point.'"