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Why “black” and “white” are so wrong

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    We see, hear and read it all the time, don’t we, especially in the American media – “black woman”, “black female”, ” black man”, “black male”, “black boy”, “black girl”, “white woman”, “white man”, “white female”, “white male”?

    The habit has been imported (in the case of Britain and other European former colonial powers, re-imported) and imitated to some extent, in some other sections of the media around the world, including parts of the British media,  not least the BBC, although you don’t generally hear/see the terms “male”/”female”  in reference to man or woman.

    When I look at Twitter, Blog Her, Colorlines, and many African-American websites, and some TV programmes  I notice a lot of regression from the term African-American to “black” or “Black”, chiefly amongst African-Americans themselves.

    Why on earth would a population choose to go back from using a perfectly respectable term African-American,  which simultaneously reclaims and states with dignity both ancestral lineage and the trauma of displacement to using one, “black”, that was given by transatlantic European and European-descendant human traffickers and enslavers in various languages and embodies the very brutalisation, denigration, violation, theft, dehumanisation, deprivation, humiliation, degradation and murder that they wrought?

    The long and arduous journey made physically, spiritually and in name by millions of my fellow people of African descent in the USA from being African through the epithets “blacks”/”negroes”to “Negroes” or “Coloured people” in the aftermath of that to “Blacks” after the Black Power movement of the mid-1960s to early 70s, to African-American , has always been a source of pride for me, and the likes of me here in the UK. It would seem a crying shame to undo it all.

    Yet what I lamentably observe is an insidious and increasingly open and inexplicable regression or backslide from African-American to “black”, the two terms now seemingly  being used interchangeably, and the latter as shorthand for the first.  Why is this? What happened?

    Why the apparently growing appetite for self-denigration in calling oneself “black” or “Black” when you know that:

    (a) first and foremost this was a racist and pejorative term applied by enslavers as part of the general subjugation that came with the trafficking and enslavement of Africans

    (b) the “black”-“white” dichotomy is a false, crude and over-simplistic dichotomy applied by those same colonist enslavers, to imply two life forms at opposite ends of the spectrum, knowing very well  that no European or person of European descent is “white” and no African or person of African descent is “black”

    (c) in stark contrast, every care is taken, by African- and European-American citizens alike to ensure that other population groups in America and around the world are accorded the dignity of being described in heritage-respecting terms, e.g. Latino and Arab-Americans, and those populations, who themselves in the past were assigned “colours” by Europeans and European-Americans, e.g. Native Americans (formerly referred to as “Red Indians”), East Asians and Asian Americans (formerly called “the yellow races” or “yellow people”).

    (d) everyone knows that how a person is labelled is integral to their self-esteem, and positive self-esteem is essential for creativity and success in life.  I can’t see how it can be good for young children, growing up hearing themselves being referred to as “black” , with all the negative meanings of this word.

    Why are so many African-Americans not entitling themselves to or insisting upon the same consistent dignity for themselves? “Black” is not a race in any language; no colour is. Comedians don’t help here, but why are so many serious African-American online media outlets using this kind of language? If you stop and look, and with a bit of thought and insight it does not take much analysis to see that the “n” word and “black” are one and the same: black = negro and the “n” word derives from this. They are negative and pejorative, and as heinous as each other when applied to humans. They all do a disservice to Africans and the African diaspora.

     

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