“I do it so it MUST not be black…”

Jun 19th, 2008 | By | Category: Social

When it comes to refining vocabulary, I often think it’s better to inject history back into a term (sorry to be Barthesian, but the erasure of history is typically how terms lose their basic meaning) than to coin a new one. Why? Because people who don’t get where ‘Black’ comes from or the idea that Black and White aren’t real will often just move all of their essentialist baggage to the new term.

So, if I have wholly negative ideas about ‘Black people,’ then the introduction of a new term will probably do little but make me now have wholly negative ideas about ‘Afrikan people,’ as I’ve left all the ideas associated with one term in place and just changed the name I call it.

What I tend to like is the idea of looking at the use of ‘Black’ as a site of positive reclamation or resistant strength. To fully imbue the term with its ugly history in order to actively, constantly overcome that history.

I’ve been having the same conversation about the term ‘racism,’ which seems to have become simply a synonym for ‘prejudice,’ losing all of the systematic imbalance of power the word has historically accrued. Losing that history is why Rev. Wright and the Klan could get propped up next to each other in MSM coverage – there’s no history left in the term.

So, to the extent that you’re suggesting reviewing how we came to the term ‘Black,’ I’m all with you. I’d even say that, once that job’s fairly far along, if there’s a groundswell to abandon it, then that’s great, too. I’m just not convinced that choosing a new term will do the work you want it to.

And, yes, I realize that my suggestion is just as difficult as I’m saying yours is. I suppose that’s the reality of dealing with systemic racism in a country that’s fooled itself into thinking it isn’t racist. Everything’s hard.

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