I attended a writing workshop a few weeks ago and the speaker talked about ‘black moments’, alluding to the despair and hopeless experienced by a character. That pissed me off.
Such a lazy, unimaginative descriptor. Why is ‘black’ or the concept of ‘not white’, a stand-in for bad/evil/sad/danger?
There are ‘black sheep’ – outcast or undesirable. Cats and crows are seen as sneaky and/or evil creatures. The scientific term ‘black hole’ meaning bottomless or unknowable. ‘Black-hearted’ means evil and sinister. Witches, sorcerers and mad scientists all wear black. ‘Black-balled’ means excluded or targetted for exclusion. ‘Black’ also refers to hats, knights, mail – all negatives.
In the 90s, when our collective consciousnesses were being raised, I recall reading an article about how word and word association can ‘colour’ our perceptions. It resonated strongly with me and I raise the matter today because the concept is still valid.
Yes, before electricity, there were wild animals and other fearsome creatures that had to be killed before they killed you. You were safer in the daytime, when the sun shone and you might be able to spot your predators before you became dinner. Fire brought not just heat, but light. But darkness – real or imagined – still made people afraid.
When we’re in a strange light-less environment, we still shiver with the same primitive fear that had cavemen and women barricaded in caves behind a fire. Why stupid adults punished children by stuffing them in small dark spaces. But that fear is of the DARK and the unknown. It shouldn’t be about another human being.
Talk about negative stereotypes! In colonial days, black or dark-skinned people were thought of as less than human. Certainly not equal to the rapists and pillagers who destroyed the ancient societies in North and South America, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia. They were different, not less. We still may look different, but we are not less.
Ironic, isn’t it, that through the centuries hordes of missionaries travelled (and died) in foreign lands trying to convert the savages to Christianity. How many Americans and Africans owe their many shades of the chocolate rainbow complexions to conquerors and slave-owners who weren’t so scrupulous they did not lie with the ‘darky’ women? Unfortunately, there are still folks who have not evolved beyond those ignorant prejudices about people who are different, whether of gender, race, ability or orientation.
In the early part of the century, darker-skinned people were defined as being ‘coloured’, which is nuts because everyone has a colour. My dear mother, born in 1920, usually used the term ‘coloured people’ to describe non-Caucasians, even after substituting ‘Negro’ (which translates as black in many languages) became the norm.
I remember as a child, hearing the phrase: “If you’re white, you’re all right. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re black, stay back.”
Talk about pernicious indoctrination.
Dark-skinned people practice the same corrosive approach to sub-defining tone and dehumanizing other people within the same race: red man, yellow man, high yaller, brown sugar. Makes you cringe, doesn’t it? The expression ‘beat me with me own stick’ comes to mind!
We laughed when the word ‘black’ replaced the word ‘Negro’. We laughed even harder when ‘black’ was replaced by ‘African-‘, as if linking the concept of skin colour to a continent made a difference in how we were perceived. African-Canadian. It just sounds so contrived and…well, goofy. We are citizens of a country, with differently-coloured skin. The closest I’ve been to Africa is Rome, Italy.
My grandchildren, who are wise beyond their years, remarked that no one in our family is ‘black’ like a Crayola pencil or ink. We are all shades from dark to light, from brown to pink. Stay too long in the sun and we tan as our flesh absorbs the warmth.
Just because ‘white’ is commonly associated with purity doesn’t mean that people and things that are not white fall outside the spectrum of goodness. Why can’t we embrace differences and just dance with joy at being alive?
Let’s put an end to the casual attributions and negative connotations. Think about the power of how we describe good or evil, to hurt or soothe.
The word is fraught with negative meanings that still sting. I’d like for people to stop tossing around the word ‘black’ as if it means nothing beyond a simple colour code.
Substitute ‘dark’ – we’ve all been afraid of the dark. No more black=bad. We can all be ‘lights’.