“Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”
~Rudyard Kipling, Gunga Din
With apologies to Kipling, the need to describe the word “mad” has come up as of late.
When I was a boy, my mother said something to me. “People don’t get mad. Dogs get mad. People get angry.” My mother is very well versed in the structure and word usage of English, and she is quite Victorian in her tastes, though from time to time when she does become quite angry, the Scottish in our family starts to come out. But she’s got a very valid point regarding the word “mad”.
Mad is a word that has a connection to insanity. And thanks to Kipling’s Gunga Din, the word can be equated to dogs. Mad, or madness, equals insanity or rabid, as in what a dog goes through when inflicted with rabies.
And I’ve heard the word used in media outlets to describe the protestors in Ferguson and other areas of the States, if not in different parts of the world. “Protestors are mad” some news reports say, and by doing so, they underline their own feelings about those who are protesting their for their rights to be recognized and for their lives to matter. By equating those protestors with the word “mad”, media outlets are doing their best to have viewers who aren’t directly affected by the events in Ferguson to think of those protestors in one light.
Insane. Inhuman. Mad. Dogs.
Darren Wilson, the officer who murdered teenager Mike Brown, has already helped dehumanize Brown by calling him “it” and describing him as demonic. Which is a tradition used by those who ally themselves with extremist groups like the Klu Klux Klan. They enjoy hearing the word “mad” to be used against the protestors, because the word itself dehumanizes them. The mostly black protestors are, in their opinion, insane. Inhuman. No better than dogs.
The protestors are angry. They’re frustrated. And they’re furious. But they aren’t mad. Their reaction to the killing of Mike Brown, along with the killing of other black youth by police officers around the States (along with the assaults committed by the police against, essentially, children), is not something irrational. It’s not something insane. It is completely justifiable. These are people fed up with the justice system that gives huge breaks to white people who break the law by murdering a black person (or other person of colour). They are frustrated by a system that vilifies black teens who have been killed, who are victims of crime often committed by white men in authority, yet white criminals who kill numerous people in a shooting rampage are called quiet, an honourable student, and given the boy next door treatment.
The use of such words is coded language, make no mistake of that. Calling the predominantly black protestors mad is not by accident. It’s not even the “new” use of English. It’s coded language to call them insane. It’s coded language to dehumanize them, just as language has been used to dehumanize black and brown people for hundreds of years.
Of mad dogs and Englishmen indeed.