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6rant6's avatar

When was the term "race traitor" coined?

Asked by 6rant6 (13629 points ) October 14th, 2011

I’m reviewing a work of fiction. One of the characters uses the epithet, “race traitor.”

I am trying to figure out whether its use is anachronistic. OED doesn’t know the phrase.

Any ideas when it was first used?

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23 Answers

TexasDude's avatar

There is a function on google where you can search for the use of terms from publications throughout history and it shows you a line graph that traces the use of those terms. I can’t recall the name, but I’m trying to find it to search for “race traitor” to see how far back that phrase goes. If anyone else knows what program I’m talking about, they should try it.

zenvelo's avatar

It dates back at least fifty years, but it’s not an anachronism because it is in current use.

It was and is often used by white supremacists as a criticism of white liberals who believe in racial equality. It is particularly directed at white women in inter-racial relationships (whether with Asian, Latino, or African-American men).

6rant6's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard Nice try, but google Trends doesn’t have enough volume on “race traitor” to make a chart.

TexasDude's avatar

@6rant6 google trends isn’t what I was thinking of. They have another thing where you can search books going all the way back to the 17th century that have all been put into a big digital database. It might not even be google that has this program, come to think of it, but I’ve used it before.

6rant6's avatar

@zenvelo Well, yes, it could be anachronism because the work of fiction is set in the 30s. Luckily, I don’t need a definition. If possible something more authoritative than “at least 50 years” would be helpful.

CunningLinguist's avatar

The concept goes back centuries, and “race traitor” is a natural way to express the concept even in a setting where the expression hasn’t gained political currency. As such, I’m not sure I’d call it anachronistic unless the book was set prior to the onset of all racial tensions.

6rant6's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard OED has something like what you’re describing, but they don’t recognize, “race traitor” at all.

@CunningLinguist If it wasn’t used then, I’m going to call it anachronistic. Would you say, “hot mama” fits in a novel set in the seventeenth century just because the concept of attraction was well established? No, of course not.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard If you figure out this program, let me know what it is. I know what your talking about, but I can’t remember the name of it.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@6rant6 I don’t know when it was first used, but I found this book from 1891 saying race traitor, so I don’t know how far back this story is set, but maybe that helps. When are you setting this, anyway?

zenvelo's avatar

@6rant6 Sorry, I was using “anachronism” as relating to something that is no longer used in modern day, not something that is not consistent with the time frame of the story.

CunningLinguist's avatar

@6rant6 But “hot mama” isn’t just about attraction and is clearly a phrase that would not be understood in the seventeenth century due to its resting on the contemporary slang usage of “hot.” “Race traitor” is a rather clear locution that does not suffer from this problem—certainly not relative to the 1930s, at least. That the phrase might not have been used with the same political overtones it has today does not make its usage anachronistic.

6rant6's avatar

@Aethelflaed The link you gave has a note that say it’s from the 1990’s, not 1891. I would say that’s probably more likely because the window where “racial traitor” is found also has a reference to Morris Seigelman Dees, a late 20th century figure.

@CunningLinguist It might be an intuitive phrase to you, but it isn’t to me. And again, if it wasn’t used, it wasn’t used. I’m not interested in deciding if someone living in 1890 could have understood a book written in 1990, which I think is what you are proving.

CunningLinguist's avatar

@6rant6 The problem you are having is that you are assuming that “race traitor” is a coined phrase, but I see no reason to think that it came into being as something purposefully invented. If, on the other hand, you meant to be asking when the two words were first put next to one another in a sentence, I’m not sure anyone can answer that.

If it helps, the Chinese have had a word for it since the seventeenth century (your proposed timeframe regarding “hot mama”). My (white) grandmother was also called a race traitor for purposefully standing in the wrong lines for drinking fountains and the like. This would have been sometime between 1938 and 1942, I think.

Though this assumes her stories weren’t retroactively updated linguistically before she told them to me. It’s possible she was called something else and was glossing when she said she was called a race traitor.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
6rant6's avatar

@CunningLinguist No, that isn’t helpful.

“Race traitor” is a coined phrase that is found in dictionaries of slang everywhere. The fact that you can deduce it’s meaning is not what interests me. A phrase like “stick to you like white on rice,” is easily decipherable, but there was a time it was first used. The “purposefully invented,” idea is null, too. It doesn’t have to be purposeful for it to find its way into common parlance.

Anyway, to clarify my question __in the general section__ , when did “race traitor” become a commonly used phrase.

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CunningLinguist's avatar

@6rant6 That’s a different question. When something became common parlance is different from when it was first used, and being uncommon is not the same as being anachronistic. My comments are quite relevant to the original question you actually asked, even if they aren’t relevant to the question you secretly wanted to see answered.

Now, I’m not convinced that “race traitor” is common parlance unless we want to say it’s common among racists. And since you’ve disqualified understanding as a criterion, we can’t say it counts as common parlance if most people would understand it when they heard it. This rather deepens the problem, since it is now unclear what you could mean by “common parlance.”

The term has probably been common among racists for longer than we’ll be able trace. It probably did not become well-known or part of the public discourse until interracial relationships started becoming legitimized and anti-miscegenation laws started coming under fire. That would probably place it later than the 1930s, but this isn’t enough to make it anachronistic. You’ll have to criticize the book in other terms if you don’t want to be criticized yourself for incorrect word usage.

6rant6's avatar

@CunningLinguist Good grief. You don’t know and “It can’t be known” are not the same. “probably,” “probably,” “probably.” I was actually hoping to get information.

And yes, it does make it anachronistic to use a phrase coined in one era in a piece of fiction written about an earlier period. Why is that so hard to grasp?

Aethelflaed's avatar

Ok, thanks to @everephebe I found out what that Google service was – Ngram Viewer. So, doesn’t look like it was around much before 1940ish.

6rant6's avatar

@Aethelflaed That looks like an answer. Thanks.

I’m still thinking that the concept originated in Mein Kampf. But my German isn’t that good and I hear it’s an incredibly tedious book.

6rant6's avatar

Maybe I GA’s too soon.

in the 1927 book, The racial integrity of the American Negro, the phrase ”...white racial traitor…” is used.

And in the 1933 opus, Truth Is Not Sober there is this unforgettable passage:

She folded her parasol and stood fingering a little bottle of plumbago. “I can’t bear it,” she said. “I’m never going to a tea party again. They called you a race-traitor.”

It appears that people were thinking in these terms earlier than the 40’s.

CunningLinguist's avatar

“It appears that people were thinking in these terms earlier than the 40’s.”

Which is exactly what you were berating me for telling you. Well, at least you got there in the end. You’re welcome.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

THAT was freaking hilarious, you guys. Well done.

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