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In today’s English lesson, we go over some words and phrases you’ll see and hear in the news about the protests in American in response to the death of George Floyd. You’ll learn the difference between a protest, riot, and looting. You’ll learn he difference between individual racism and institutional, or systemic racism.
If you live in the US or you follow the news on the US, undoubtedly you’ve seen that Americans are protesting all across the country in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota police officer. And as a non-native speaker of English, perhaps you’re seeing a slew of new terms. What is the difference between a protest, a riot, and looting, for example. Today we’re going to go over some terms that you’ll be seeing in the news cycle about the current events in America. We’ll talk about different kinds of racism and the ‘ism’ suffix. Stick with me.
I did have another “Learn English with Movies” video planned for today, but we’ll just push that to next week.
George Floyd was 46 years old when he was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill. What does counterfeit mean? It simply means fake. You’ll notice that Americans will usually drop the first T there because it comes after an N. This is true of words like ‘internet’ and ‘interview’ as well. Counterfeit, counterfeit.
On May 25, a group of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota apprehended him and took a series of actions that violated the policies of their police department. We’re going to talk about the words ‘policy and police’ in a moment.
One officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, which killed him, in broad daylight, with witnesses taking video, with George Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe”, with witnesses saying “he can’t breathe”. And so in news stories about what has happened and what is happening, you might see the phrases ‘excessive force’ or ‘police brutality’.
But first let’s talk about the words ‘police’ and ‘policy’. They both come from the Greek word ‘polis’. Polis, I’m probably not saying that completely right, but it’s the Greek word which means a city-state, citizenship, a group of people all governed by the same government. ‘Police’, we have second syllable stress, first vowel is a schwa. Police.
Policy, we have first syllable stress, and the vowel is the AH as in FATHER vowel. Police, policy. Only one letter is different, but the pronunciation is quite different. Police, policy. A policy is a course of action adopted by a government of a governing body. So you might have heard the term foreign policy – each President puts his or her own spin on foreign policy.
In the case of the Minnesota police department, it’s the course of action, the steps, the rules of how to do things, when on duty. The policy. You might also see this at work: what is your sick leave policy, that means what are the rules about when or how long a worker can take off when they’re sick. Or, I was late for a dentist appointment the other day and I called ahead, and I said, “what is your late policy?” That is, how late can I still show up and see the dentist.
Other related words with this root: politics, metropolis, which is a large city, or metropolitan, a characteristic of a metropolis, especially in culture, sophistication, accepting a wide variety of people and ideas. She became very metropolitan after moving to New York City.
Police force has two different meanings. It can mean the group of officers all working for the same unit, a city, a county, for example. She’s a member of the Philadelphia police force.
But it also means force, action, to get somebody to do something, physically. How do you force them? Police force. So when an officer is arresting a citizen, what kind of force is needed? Maybe no force at all. Or maybe the citizen struggles or resists and the officer uses some force. Was it appropriate force or was it excessive force? Excessive meaning more than you need. Excessive force, in the case of George Floyd. The officer did not need to kneel on his neck for eight minutes to make the arrest, but did. And this is the definition of police brutality.
When officers use excessive force against a citizen. And this actually doesn’t have to be physical force against a person. It can be verbal harassment, it can be property damage. So this brings us to the outrage of many of the citizens of the United States, myself included. And we’ll get to the protests in a moment, but first I want to say that I am disabling comments for this video as you have probably already found. Why?
Social media comment sections can be a place where our worst selves come out. We can become very polarized. Polarized means sharply divided. And I’ve decided for myself that I don’t want to police the comments of the video. Here I’m using the word ‘police’ as a verb, meaning to regulate or control. If people get really nasty with each other in comments, which has happened before, I don’t want to get in there and decide if some people have crossed the line, that means go too far, like with negativity or insults. There are lots of places where you can read about what happened, what is happening, and commentary on that. There are lots of places where you can go leave your comments. And I do encourage you to take in different media, different voices discussing what’s happening in the US. I think expanding our perspective is extremely important right now.
So many Americans are very angry. And one of the ways that Americans can express this is through protest. The right to do this was established in the first amendment, here’s a quote: “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” To gather to let it be known, we don’t like the ways this is being done. And so in the days since May 25th, there have been protests against policing policies and racism. We’ll talk about racism in a minute.
Large groups of people are gathering, marching, holding signs, chanting. And some of those protests have ended in destruction. So a riot is different from a protest in that it’s when a group turns violent. Burning things for example. And then looting is when people break into storefronts and steal what’s there. And right now, both riots and looting are happening in addition to the peaceful, emotionally charged protests.
The amount of people looting, or causing destruction, is much smaller than the groups that are peacefully protesting. And, at least in Philadelphia, where I live, the rioting has largely subsided though the protests continue. This is due in part to a curfew. A curfew is a time at which you must be inside. Lots of teenagers have curfews imposed on them by their parents, but occasionally a city will have an issue where it will issue a curfew where it asks all citizens to remain at home after a certain hour. For us, that’s 6pm right now. These protests and riots are bringing to the forefront of the American conversation the deep hurt and wrongs caused by racism.
There was a study done on the use of police force against black people in Minneapolis over the last five years, and it was found that police force against black people was used seven times more than police force against white people.
Racism is defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior, that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
A white supremacist is a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races. Now, the policy and doctrines of the United States of America state that all men (and women) are created equal. But due to racism and systemic racism, that’s not how life plays out.
Systemic racism is also known as institutional racism. What is it? It’s different than individual racism, which is easier to see and understand. A quote from “Black Power, the politics of Liberation” gives two examples to show the difference between individual racism and institutional racism.
This is a quote: “When white terrorists bomb a black church and kill five black children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But when in that same city – Birmingham, Alabama – five hundred black babies die each year because of the lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and discrimination in the black community, that is a function of institutional racism.”
The ‘ism’ suffix is used to create a noun showing an action or practice, principles, doctrines. We have racism, ageism, sexism, ableism. These all mean discrimination against. Against older people, women, and discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.
But not all ‘isms’ mean discrimination. You have baptism, a practice in the Christian church of sprinkling water on, or immersing someone in water, symbolizing purification and admission into the Christian church. You have activism – the action of campaigning to bring about political or social change. There are over words in English with the –ism suffix. But the one most prominent in American conversation right now is racism, and how as a nation we can recognize it, understand it, and grow to a place beyond it.
Next week we will continue our summer mission of learning English with movies, and the movie we’ll be looking at is A Star is Born. Lady Gaga is going to help you understand how Americans use reductions and linking in a way that can help you understand Americans better, and also be more easily understood when you’re speaking English. Thank you all so much for joining me here, I love teaching you English. I make new videos every Tuesday and I invite you to subscribe, we’d love to have you as a part of our community. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.