Sunday, July 13, 2008

The black hole 

First the video (h/t, and a further h/t for stimulating this post):

My initial reaction was the same as that of my friend Red Tory. At the very margins of political correctness. Beyond silly. A black hole is so named because its gravity is so intense that no light can escape from it. You can't go around calling it a "white hole" or a "pink hole."

But the man in the video actually raises an interesting point. With the exception of "in the black," popular usages of the word tend to connote something negative. "
Black arts," "black hearts," "black look," "black book," "blackout," "black sheep," "blackguard," etc., etc.

No wonder the Irish refer in their language to "blue people" rather than "black people." ("An fear dubh" means "the Devil," literally, "the black man." Hence, out of respect, "an fear gorm" is used for Blacks.)

It's no coincidence that colonialists called Kipling's "lesser breeds without the Law" "black." It accorded with the connotations the word already had. Ditto "white." When did we start calling ourselves "white," anyway? Quite late during the Age of Discovery, as it happens (scroll down to n.35 in the link). Why is someone half-white and half-black "black? instead of "white?" Because the notion of blackness has been made equivalent to sin: maculate vs. immaculate, the staining of purity. "Whiteness," of course, is an ever-shifting category.

The connotations of both "white" and "black" are far too deeply embedded, in any case, to be overcome simply by watching one's words. But there is a solution.

I've never seen a black person, just people in various delightful hues ranging from ebony (actually a very dark brown) to light tan. Instead of internalizing centuries of white racism, perhaps Blacks (who adopted that nomenclature in the 'sixties as a form of political defiance, much as the word "queer" was reclaimed by gays) might want to consider referring to themselves as brown, or umber, or bronze. And we non-Blacks should follow suit, of course. Speaking as a pinkish kind of person, it seems to me that this would be a far less arduous cultural hill to climb.

Any takers?

(Crossposted from Dawg's Blawg.)

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