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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.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Folly of Calling People "Black"

Speaking of falling on billions of sensationally deaf ears--

In my younger days I was never comfortable with being called "black," and now I am even less so.

It could be completely unknown among Americans with mostly European roots and also among the younger generations of those with African roots, but before the Civil Rights era, in the communities of what were then called "Negroes" or "colored people," "black" was a highly pejorative term, most often used as an adjective to intensify the evil, as in "You're a black son of a bitch!"

As a result, when that word was turned respectable, largely due to the efforts of the "black militants" such as Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and the others, one of the most respected authorities on the use of language in the "Negro" world, a literature professor at Howard U. in D.C. named Sterling Brown, now deceased but from whom I took many classes, couldn't go along with it, and though he was as militant as any scholar can get, he is recorded as saying in no uncertain terms, "I do not use the word "black." I hadn't been in his vicinity for years when I heard that, but I never use the word in that sense either, unless I'm not up for explaining myself as I am doing here.

It is difficult and maybe even impossible to drop the connotations and denotations of words that they had when a person learned a language, but with regard to calling people "black," or, just as imprecisely and sloppily, "white," there is much more to it.

I greatly prefer to apply the term "rainbow" to the people with whom I am grouped, and I don't care how enraged certain parties might get at the idea of applying the name of such a beautiful weather phenomenon to a people that they have been taught to despise. I have experienced that disgust a time or two. But the solid logic of this can be seen from viewing any large group of the descendants of the slaves brought over from Africa. In appearance they will range from something that approaches Swedish Nordic all the way over to the most sun-burned pygmies in equatorial Africa, and therefore they take in the entire human spectrum, and in this respect they could be unique in the world.

Add to that the fact that applying the term "black" to people suggests that they are the complete opposite of those who are called "white." The trouble with that is that only those who have seen nothing of one group or the other would be unaware that nothing could be farther than the truth.

Those are just two of my reasons for cringing whenever I hear even so simple a phrasing as "the blacks." (Yet another reason, that I can't help adding here, is the likelihood that some in the Eurocentric population might in fact actually know all about the derogatory earlier connotation of "black," and referring to a member of that minority as such allows them to speak ill of that person while not appearing to do so, and in that covert way the word "black" becomes one more weapon to use in today's world of engaging in deception and double-talk whenever possible.


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