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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Word About Some Words

I have said that when I was a child, "black" was often an offensive term in the community of those descended from the forced laborers abducted from Africa. But in the 1960's "black militants" like Stokeley Carmichael, Huey Newton, and Julian Bond accomplished the astounding feat of elevating "black" into a term denoting pride ...and then excessive and even irrational pride. I have also said that nevertheless I don't use the word "black" in that connotation, and I'm not comfortable with saying "white" either. The main reason is that both terms strike me as being wildly inaccurate and a reflection of sloppy thinking and intellectual sloth.

"Black" implies that people called that are the complete opposite of those who are called "white," when nothing could be farther from the truth. In the U.S. at least, they are not opposite sides of a coin but instead are equally represented on both sides of that coin, for all the talk of polarization, and for every person in the minority group, there are several almost exactly like him or her among the majority group. The fact that they can and do interbreed without missing a beat says enough, and, having moved for equally large amounts of time through both groups, I think I can say without fear of refutation that their slob quotients are identical.

Furthermore, as a writer I believe in the precise use of language, while as a painter, if I squeezed out a tube labeled "black," it would be obvious that a big mistake had been made at the factory if something emerged that was my color, which is a shade of umber instead. I have never seen a person the color of the inside of a chimney, anymore than I've seen one the color of (or as "pure" as) the newly fallen snow.

I see no reason why the descendants of the slaves in the U.S. shouldn't call themselves something beautiful for a change, and besides, if one has ever noted the amazing variance of hues among them, which take on all the colors of the human spectrum due to so much blood intermixture, during and after slavery, then the term "Rainbow" is more than appropriate, and, though it's difficult and even awkward, the inertia of language being as ingrained as it is, that is what I try to say whenever I can instead of "black."

This is an idea that I've been sitting on since the 1960's.

After all, in recognition of that abundance of different hues, it wasn't too long ago that the term "colored" was used. That was considered to be less offensive than "black" -- until those same 1960's, when "colored" was inexplicably demoted to the same degree as the overly simple "black" was promoted. (Here I use "simple" in both meanings of that word!)

I know that this notion will outrage many, who wouldn't want to use a word that universally suggests extreme, ethereal beauty to denote people that they don't consider presentable at all. I have encountered that bitter reaction.

I also know that numerous groups have tried to gather "Rainbow" principally unto themselves. That includes the hippies, who have, or used to have. a celebration with the word "Rainbow" in its title somewhere out west every year. Then there is Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, which is supposed to include lots of different ethnicities but doesn't, judging from all the photos I've seen. And also included lately are "gay" people, though I haven't caught on yet to how the things that distinguish them relate to the appearance of the weather phenomenon that North Africans so poetically call "the Bride of the Rain."

I have not yet hit on anything quite as fitting for so-called "white" people, though they, too, are not that color at all but instead are various subtle shades of pink and buff, and until recent times they didn't even refer to themselves that way. Instead they referred to the nationality from which they sprang. For a long time, though keeping it to myself and to various writings, the best I could do was "Euchil," short for "European children." Though it was better, I avoided "Euro," on the grounds that the European Union messed me up badly by using that term for their money. But lately I have changed my mind. Why not? Or why not, for instance, "Euroders?" The "ders" would be short for "derived."

Note that I never tried to think of anything offensive.

The same can't be said for the terms that the descendants of the English, French, and others have coined for the descendants of the Sub-Sahara West African regions, in the sheer number and in the toxicity of the epithets, of which "niggers," "dinges," "samboes," "eightballs," "spearchuckers," "spades," "shines," and "mud people" are just a few.

I always thought that the word "nigger" especially needed to have its venom drawn, much more than "black" did. Instead Carmichael and Co. left that weapon in the hands of the enemy, and the best that they could come up with to match it was the notably limp and short-lived "honky." This is surprising, considering how inventive and effective Rainbows can be in their use of language, as anyone who's been in the military might tell you.

This disparity in lethality of epihets does strongly suggest, however, that the waters of disdain are not equally deep on both sides of the blood puddle.


Blogger Steve Bates said...

Almost 30 years ago, while riding in a van full of musicians heading to a performance in Austria, I saw a horizon-to-horizon rainbow, from the forest on one side of the van to the mountains on the other. I am sorry, but no mere human being of any hue whatsoever comes anywhere close to the grandeur in appearance of that rainbow. But at least the term as applied to people of color is respectful, unlike the list of terms to which you have been subjected.

Thanks to the EU and their €, "Euro" for people of European descent works about as well as "Afghani" for people of Afghan descent... "Afghani" is a monetary unit, not a person of a certain nationality.

Gratuitous disrespect dies hard. You've probably noted from my pictures on my blog that I am "white." I recall in my childhood an incident with my mother in the grocery store. I was thirsty. Mother lifted me up to the nearest drinking fountain. The store manager rushed over and practically shouted at us, "No! that's the colored people's drinking fountain!" To her credit, and doubtless to my edification, my mother let me continue drinking, and calmly said, "It's the same water." It's the same blood, too: H. sapiens is all one species. I do wish I could persuade a few of the more extreme "white" people of that fact.

12:17 AM  

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