Before I delve into the meat of the topic, I believe it is important that we first understand what racism is.
Racism is seen as the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another race, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his/her inborn biological characteristics.
Racism in a more lay man language is hatred of one person by another because of his/her social or moral traits. Racism is seen to take its form in Physical appearance (skin color difference), social actions, languages, practices, beliefs or political systems in which different races are ranked as inherently superior or inferior to each other, based on presumed shared and inheritable traits, abilities or qualities. Racism has existed in human history and overtime has influenced wars, slavery, formation of nations and legal codes.
While we acknowledge the various forms which racism takes, this article however focuses on color connotations in world languages (with focus on English Language) and how it encourages racism.
Have you ever noticed that compound words or terms that have the word ‘white’ is significantly good in terms of meaning? Even the word ‘white-lie’ is defined as an untrue statement that does ‘no harm’. ‘White-lie’ is seen as good even if it has the term “lie” attached to it. We have other terms like ‘whiteheads’ defined as a songbird with white head and underpants; ‘whitewashed’ referred to as a smart one in a game which the loser scores no point, it is also means concealment of flaws.
Now let’s have a quick look at some terms with the word ‘Black’, which are widely associated with negativity, pain, difficulties, etc. There is ‘Black magic’, a term which refers to magic derived from an evil source or by evil means. ‘Black Friday’, a Friday that falls on the 13th day of any month and is regarded as ill-omened. ‘Blackheads’ which is an infectious diseases of turkey, ‘blackwash’ which purports defamation. ‘Dark culture’ is a term that covers several subculture such as gothic, BDSM and Fetish. This and many other words and cases are examples of how ‘black’ as a color has been largely attributed to all things evil, negative or bad.
No doubt there are other terms with the word ‘black’ that connote positivity/good, for example-black gold, dark chocolate, blackberry.etc. But these are few when compared to the negatives. In like manner, we have very few words associated with ‘White’ that has negative impression like white-comb.
Interestingly, its shocking how one could go through the Oxford dictionary, Merriam-Webster dictionary, Urban dictionaries and Google and won’t find words associated with ‘WHITE’ exceeding 50-70 of which, not more than 1-5 will have a negative remark, impression or meanings; as opposed to the word ‘BLACK’.
When a person is constantly reminded on a daily basis that anything associated with his color is bad, evil, negative and just plain wrong, this will in long run subconsciously take shape in his mental and psychological environment and he would invariably come to accept same to be true of him and/or his color/race.
These terms are largely seen as normal and have been generally accepted in the world. They might not seem so much of a big deal or in any way associated to racism until you consider the psychological factor, its usage and how it affect the society.. A white or Hispanic person will say or hear these words and not feel any negative impact, but the same cannot be said for a black person.
The use of these colors remains a never ending force to reckon with, such that ‘the hate that comes with it’ are passed down from one generation to another, through various means like religion for instance, crossed the line of just words; but went as far as tagging this colors to personalities, which till date has encouraged racism by the creation of images where Jesus and Angels are painted as ‘white’, and satan/devil as ‘black’; and so we have kids in school with various picture books with Satan painted black and Jesus and Angels colored white.
Racism still exist strongly in our society today because of these colors, its use and application. If the world is truly serious about fighting against racism then we should fight it in all of its forms. Terms and words that tend to portray black or dark as bad and negative need to be abolished from our everyday educational, formal and informal interactions. It may seem like a hard or even impossible task to consider but we can start by:
- Flagging these terms as inappropriate in formal exchanges;
- Scrapping these word out of our dictionaries (NB: that words formed in dictionary came to be as a result of our formation and general acceptance, hence we can as a well take them out.)
- Discourage any activities of any sort that promotes the racism through these colors.
- Educate and create awareness to the society that portrays the fact that white and black are mere colors like orange, purple, green red etc. identified/named by us(HUMANS). Such that one can chose to identify black as white, vice versa. Therefore we need not let our creation be the end of our Humanity.
The impact may not be immediate but if we gradually bring an end to common usage of these terms, we will be protecting the next generation against mental and psychological harm caused by racism in the form of color portrayal in our everyday language vocabulary.
This article was written by UZERE O. ANTHONY (ESQ.). A Legal Practitioner and Human Right Activist based in Lagos, Nigeria.