“Black” Isn’t a Dirty Word


Black. What do you think of when you hear the word? Naturally, I assume that answer really depends on who you are. Of course, I have my own feelings about the word “Black.” But before I tell you what Black means to me, let me share some definitions from Dictionary.com:

Black; adjective
1. lacking hue and brightness; absorbing light without reflecting any of the rays composing it.
2. characterized by absence of light; enveloped in darkness:

a black night.

(sometimes initial capital letter)

  1. pertaining or belonging to any of the various populations characterized by dark skin pigmentation, specifically the dark-skinned peoples of Africa, Oceania, and Australia.
  2. African American
4. soiled or stained with dirt:

That shirt was black within an hour.

gloomy; pessimistic; dismal:

a black outlook.

deliberately; harmful; inexcusable:

a black lie.

boding ill; sullen or hostile; threatening:

black words; black looks.
Eh. As you probably guessed, when I think of Black, I don’t think of gloom, stains, or hostility. I don’t think of harm, a lack of brightness, or pessimism. In fact, I think of just the opposite. I think of beauty, brilliance, boldness, strength, and power. I think of ebony, depth and allure. It’s funny how much a word’s connotation can differ from its so-called denotation.
I am a Black woman, and I want to be identified as such. I want to be called “Black.” See, unlike a lot of people, the word “Black” doesn’t make me cringe, or cause me anxiety in public forums when said aloud. “Black” is not an insult to me, because to me, Black is a thing of beauty.
Surprisingly, in conversations about race, I’ve run across Black people who’ve told me that they didn’t want to be referred to as “Black.” They didn’t want to be thought of as the “Black guy.” They wanted to be called by their name. That I can understand. Everyone, regardless of race would like to be called by the name their mama gave them.
I’ve heard white folk say that they “don’t see” color. And though the thought is a nice one, the idea that color doesn’t exist, and that race doesn’t matter, really bothers me.
While I understand someone wanting to be called by their name, I cannot understand someone who doesn’t want to be identified as Black, someone who doesn’t identify as Black. Though I think it’s miraculous that some white folk claim they “don’t see color”, I also find it rather insulting.
“Black” is something that I am very proud of. I don’t feel the need to try and separate myself from Blackness. I don’t want non-Blacks to do it either. Acknowledge my Blackness. Take it in. Inhale it. Learn it. Enjoy it. Embrace it. Like I do. I WANT you to see my color. What I DON’T want you to do is judge me and discriminate against me because of it. Not acknowledging my color doesn’t make me any less BLACK. Trying to side step “Black” suggests it’s something to be ashamed of…and it’s not.
I wear “Black” like a badge of honor for many reasons. One being the fact that even TODAY, in 2015, Black people are still thought to be less than. When Africa was colonized, Africans were stripped of their culture. The colonizers had made up in their minds that they wanted to make Africans more “civilized.” Being Black wasn’t civilized enough. Flashing forward to the days of Marcus Garvey, on to the days of Lena Horne and Duke Ellington, on to the Jim Crow South, being Black was something people were supposed to be ashamed of. Some Black folk wanted to be white so badly, that many fair skinned Blacks actually “passed” for white. I wear “Black” proudly because for so long, being “Black” was taboo. Where do you think the Brown Paper Bag Test came from?
I realize that many Blacks “passed” for white out of fear. They didn’t know what might happen to them if they stayed on the wrong side of the tracks. But today, there are Blacks who engage in a different kind of “passing.” They will do just about anything not to be associated with Blackness, or Black people for that matter. They want so badly to be what they aren’t. Just look at Stacey Dash and Clarence Thomas. *rolls eyes*
Even TODAY, Black people all over the world are participating in dangerous beauty routines, lightening and bleaching their skin, in an effort to achieve…whiteness. Ironically, the practice is especially prevalent in Africa, the cradle of civilization.
Then there are those who ask, “Why do you have to have Black Entertainment Television? Why do they have to call the TV show ‘Black Ink’? Why do they have to say ‘Black Girls Rock’?” For some reason, the “Black” part bothers them.
The answer is quite simple: Black people have been degraded, down trodden, and marginalized in this country for years. We’ve constantly been told how unworthy, and how insignificant we are. We’ve been erased from the history books, and we’ve been hunted down like animals in the street. Nothing in the “system” was designed with us in mind, so we HAD to make our own. And when we did, we were PROUD of it. THAT is why we label it Black.
The truth of the matter is, white Americans simply don’t have that experience. So instead of pretending that color doesn’t exist, I suggest that we recognize race, understand the differences, and embrace the similarities. I am a human first, Black second, a woman third, and I don’t mind being called either one, in that order.

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