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Copyright 2020 Cynthia Alease Smith, Ed.D.

Black is Not a Taboo: Language and Political Correctness

One thing I hear regularly living in a British seaside town with an elderly care home on every major road, populated by fans of Nigel Farage, bemoaning ‘foreigners’ and wanting to reclaim our ‘great' country, are complaints about not being able to use certain words. Some of those words are rightfully “not allowed” in this dichotomous era of ‘wokeness' and raging emboldened racism. Let’s be clear: the offensive language has always been offensive. The derogatory language has always been degrading to the subject and often with that intent, though there remains in the older generations, the belief that they are not intentionally racist. Those were just the words they were raised to use. Perhaps for some, that has a degree of truth, however in my thirty five years on this earth, the N word for example has always been obscene. I contend ‘they' have had plenty of time to adjust to not using it. If, in the second decade of the twenty first century, you continue to insist on using it, then really, you’re simply racist. The element that has changed is not the offensive nature of the vocabulary, but the ability to speak out against their use. 

 

That being said, language evolves constantly, and in some instances, it is a little difficult to keep up with preferred words. There is an episode of the Netflix series, “Mr Iglesias,” that discusses exactly this – why ‘Latino’ has been replaced with ‘Latinx' to include all gender identities as opposed to the masculine.

 

According to a 2014 article on NPR.org, the term, “Coloured,” was adopted in the United States by emancipated slaves as a term of racial pride after the end of the American Civil War”[1].  The article traces the journey from emancipation to modern times. Nowadays, ‘coloured' is an offensive term and has fallen out of acceptable usage. I openly admit that it has taken me a little time to get to grips with the preferred vocabulary and am grateful to my Black friends for steering me when I get it wrong.

 

Perhaps if I did not take in interest in issues of race, I might find it difficult to know why some Black people don’t like to be called a Person of Colour. Maybe for those who take no interest at all in the chasm between ‘coloured' and ‘Person of Colour,' it is confusing.  The words themselves, when removed from issues of race, are not that far from one another. However, the important thing should be choosing not to cause offence even if you don’t really understand why something is inappropriate, rather than clinging steadfastly to language because its what you’ve always said, regardless of the impact.

 

Somehow, to many white people, especially of a certain age, ‘black' and ‘white' become taboo, even when referring to items of those colours.  As a result of the Post Racial Colour-blind era  of “not seeing colour," combined with a confused interpretation of the feminist and the LGBTQ+ movements' shift away from male centric and gender conformist language, an utterly absurd amalgamation of taboos have emerged that make no sense; a ban on unrelated vocabulary that actually doesn’t offend anyone,  which has led to this ridiculous attitude to the chromatic absence of light – black – and the chromatic absence of colour – white.

 

There is nothing quite so bizarre as having been in an art class while white men and women in their sixties believe that “they," whoever “they” are, have banned them from using the words black or white. One gentleman lamented, “I can’t say blackboard. I can’t whiteboard. I can’t say manhole cover.” To which I replied “Yes, you can.”  Trying to explain that not only is it okay to refer to black and white in reference to items, its also perfectly fine to refer to Black and white people. Noticing race is ok; it’s the intention of the words that are problematic. It all got a little hysterical from there, and I admit that one member of the group intimidated me quite spectacularly. After having been bellowed at previously by this person, I don’t engage with them any longer, since the only outcome is damage to my mental health. I regret my cowardice, because this was an educational opportunity that I swerved away from when I should have taken the opportunity to educate these people about the   problem of being racially colour-blind.

I believe that most genuinely non-racist white people have gone through the “I don’t see colour” period of navigating the quagmire that is race. I know that I have. It took a lovely Black lady in a Facebook group to explain to me that by not seeing race I was refusing to see the whole person, their heritage and culture, the beautiful tapestry that makes up each individual, absolutely not my intention.

I believe that was the intent following the Civil Rights Movement. Rather than fixing the issues of racial inequality, a few constitutional concessions were made, slowly and resentfully, nonetheless important – constitutional desegregation and electoral franchise for example, but essentially the old racist white men in power just wanted the Civil Rights Movement to disappear. Unfortunately, the racism at the heart of the issue was never addressed, it was brushed under the carpet, “let’s not acknowledge race and it’ll go away," but it didn’t.  Black children could go to white schools. Black people could vote, if they met certain criteria, but the broken criminal justice system would ensure a limited franchise. Black people could use white amenities, but the psychological and practical segregation remains. White people will tell other white people they are racist if they acknowledge race. White people will tell Black people they are racist if they acknowledge race or talk about racism. The same white people do nothing to abolish racism. The white people who are anti-racist, who will stand shoulder to shoulder with Black people, absolutely do acknowledge race. The one thing I am yet to experience is a Black person calling someone racist for acknowledging race respectfully.

 

The term ‘political correctness’ is highly charged, and unhelpful. Done properly, its is nothing more than respect and kindness to everyone regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and physical ability. We are, en masse, such an unkind species that we must cajole people into being respectful and kind. We must give it term and a set of rules, with no rulebook to refer to.  Essentially all it should be is not to be offensive to others. If the subject of your comment finds it hurtful or disrespectful, then that is what it is and don’t say it again.  It’s that simple.  

 

We all know the words that are historically derogatory and will cause distress. There is not an adult in the English speaking world that does not know the N word is derogatory, and there are many other derogatory words that are widely known. To use them is making a choice to be offensive. Many love to use these words for no other reason than because they are derogatory and hurtful. Here’s the thing though, some white people have such an ingrained superiority complex that they don’t like being told that they can’t say something. The idea of political correctness has been purposefully misinterpreted into arbitrary commandments designed to limit their vocabulary. They make themselves the victim, when they are really being asked to be respectful to others, something everyone wants to receive, but so many struggle with, or refuse to give.

What is White to a White Supremacist?

The article, No, Talking About Women’s Role in White Supremacy is NOT Blaming women -Women’s Role in the 1920s KKK Can Teach Us About Racism Today, by Laura Smith is an interesting piece. It calls into question what is white to them? Now, do not for one minute think that I am in anyway suggesting that other groups considered inferior by groups like the KKK have it anywhere near as difficult as Black people. That would be not only absurd and offensive, but untrue. However, based on articles such as this the whiteness of white supremacy is not only about melanin. Don't get me wrong, skin colour is the centre of their insane and heinous acts, and those of us who lack the melanin can more easily hide from their hatred than black people can - they can hate Jews and Catholics and Communists but they have to be able to see us to target that hate. We can disguise ourselves in a way that black people cannot, and therefore can escape their vile dangerous behaviour more easily.

It is, however, interesting to analyse what a white supremacist defines as white. Based on the xenophobia element of white supremacy, "white" is white conservative Christian. Plainly this definition doesn't erase the white privilege that broader society confers on us melanin deficient 'non-whites’; our pale skin acting as a very convincing armour in everyday life that Black people simply do not have. 'They' have to “discover” our Judaism, or Catholicism or Communism in order to enact their hatred; something that the KKK cop doesn’t see through a vehicle window as they do when they harass and kill a Black driver. Had Tamir Rice been a little white Catholic boy he absolutely would not have met the same fate for playing with a toy gun.

To white supremacists we are white until proven "un-white.” Black people are Black.
                   

It always amazes me how much of an oxymoron white supremacy actually is. They'll never admit it but their delusions of superiority derive from a malignant inferiority complex. The fact that this has been allowed to form and continue at all speaks volumes of just how fragile the white supremacist ego actually is. The drive to destroy the outsider is so strong that they have subjected an entire race to oppression, enslavement, violence, imprisonment and slaughter for centuries and proves that they are subconsciously aware that their supremacy is undeserved and unwarranted. A person confident in his/her/their own inherent worth doesn't need to metaphorically napalm anyone who is different from them, because they are no threat. When one believes that all people are equal to them, another’s abilities and qualities are not something to fear and subsequently try to destroy.

There is a reason that Africans were chosen to be enslaved; they possess qualities that white people do not. Unbleached history tells us that prior to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, many African nations were successful in agriculture, technology and industry, all of which speaks to the intellect of the people. There is evidence that when sugar cane and tobacco were presented to Elizabeth I and the enslavement of Africans was addressed at court, their treatment was 'justified' because they described those captured as being heathen and criminal; straw clutching for excuses to 'justify' the brutality.

Those mental acrobatics have become, over the centuries, the default setting of these people, and manifests in this notion of white supremacy. It is passed from generation to generation by indoctrination of the infants. I posit that an infant in Klan robes is child abuse. In an inherently racist system such as that in the United States, mainstream education may not produce a "woke" white child, but a child raised in the malignant toxicity of a white supremacist Klan family and is bred to be a white supremacist. According to every single documentary I have seen on these monsters, children are largely home schooled to preserve their ideology, further evidence that white supremacy is an inferiority complex on steroids. If there were a shred of evidence that the white conservative Christian was indeed superior to the Black person, the Jew, the Catholic, the Communist, the Latinx, the Muslim, the Asian, the Native American, the Atheist, or any other non-white conservative Christian, they would not fear the influence of an education.

It’s astonishing that they have maintained the power that they have.

Image Description: Klanswomen and child at a rally in Ohio in 1925. The gathering marked the induction of 8,000 junior members into the Ku Klux Klan. (Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)