There are times when ideology gets in the way of reality or when we want shortcuts to the winning of political battles. Sometimes we just repeat what we have heard without really thinking about what we are saying. We are all guilty and I take my place amongst them!
There appears to be a belief that the word black in the English language always refers black people and that every use of the word containing “black” is negative. This view was a political tool during the 1980s which challenged us to rethink our use of language. Nana Yaw’s blog post Language as a Tool for Cultural Domination rightly asks us to consider how language can express power relations.
The premise that power relations are expressed through language is not something I’m challenging. What I am challenging is the notion that the word black in the English language is an example of this.
Firstly, it needs to be proven that the linguistic roots of the word black are based in race and not simply metaphorical based on the dualities between night/day, black/white and so on.
It needs to be proven that whilst this language was evolving, the population were aware of black people and had negative images of them which they enshrined in their language.
I would question whether when saying blackmail, I have an image of a black person in my head. I would also question whether using this language gives me a negative perception of black people.
Secondly, is every word in the English language which incorporates black based on race? Is blackboard? If not, why is blackmail?
There are positive uses of the word black such as when your bank account is in the black. There are also negative uses of the word white such as whitewash, whiteout, white elephant or white flag. Do these negative white words reinforce negative images of white people held by some non-white people? I doubt it.
It is obvious that the views I’m expressing are my personal opinions. Opinion are not hard facts but simply an exploration of ideas. If people wish to disagree, it would be helpful if they would do more than merely assert that they are right. For those who are making the assertions the onus is on them to back up the claims. I am happy to be proven wrong.