In his analytical study, The Ideologies of African American Literature, Dr. Robert Washington asserts that, “In preindustrial structures of domination, the ruling group typically controls not only the subordinate group’s economic and political life, but also its cultural representations—namely the ideas and images inscribing its social identity in the public arena. In this country that ruling group has always been white Americans and the primary subordinate group has been Blacks.
Washington goes on to explain that in this relationship the dominant group defines what symbols, expressions and meanings are representative of the subordinate group. These representations emanate from the dominant group’s ideological biases toward the others. Words and expressions have historically been manifestations of those biases. Black is the only color defined in dictionaries by the use of negative adjectives. For example in the American Heritage Dictionary, black is equated with evil, wicked, dirty, soiled as from soot, depressing, angry, gloomy and sullen. It is quite evident that the intent was to create a negative and destructive image of the color black and all objects and persons associated with it. Conversely, the color white is associated with perfect human beauty, especially female beauty.
Historian Dr. Winthrop D. Jordan exposed the manner in which the two colors have been juxtaposed throughout history. He wrote in his award winning book, White Over Black, “No two colors implied opposition as white and black. White and black connoted purity and filthiness, virginity and sin, virtue and baseness, beauty and ugliness, beneficence and evil, and God and the devil. These identifications are necessary in order for whites to justify their historically misguided belief in the inferiority of the Black race to them. Over decades, anything or anyone considered black was viewed negatively. Even African Americans did not want to be associated with their color. Skin lighteners, hair straighten formulas were very fashionable.
The term experienced a brief reprieve during the Black Arts Movement when both writers and musicians made black a term of endearment. Maya Angelou glorified the word black in her poem Phenomenal Woman, Stokely Carmichael gave it strength with his cry “Black Power,” and James Brown sang of black pride with “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
But the reprieve was short lived and the color black is once again equated with negative images and connotations. kYmberly Keeton, a brilliant, talented, artistic young sister believes the term slipped back into darkness at the turn of the century. Ten years later with the release of Helena Andrews’ memoirs, Bitch is the New Black, and three years after her book, with the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, the color was again under severe attack.
I personally take a great deal of pride in referring to myself as a Black man. I am blessed to have been born into a Black family and to be the descendant of great Black men and women who survived an abusive and sick system of exploitation. They made it up the rough side of the mountain, and left us with a legacy of strength, beauty and love. There is nothing negative or hateful about them at all.
I reject the suggestion that bitch and Black women are synonymous. My wife, sisters and my daughters are not bitches nor are the millions of other beautiful Black women who take pride in their race and color. And the insinuation that prison life is somehow a part of Black life is blatantly false. There are approximately one million Black men and women locked up (which I agree is far too many) out of a total population of thirty million. Three percent is not a fair representation of the Black race. If these writers must equate a color to a negative definition and meaning, why not title their works as Bitch is the New White, and Orange is the New White and give black a well-deserved rest.
3 thoughts on “Give the Color Black a Well-Deserved Rest”
In a nutshell, we as Black people must maintain control of what to be Black means to us. What it means to others should be secondary and need not dictate forever the status quo. As I say on my recording when you call 210-2268807, “it matters not what others think of you but rather what you think of yourself”. William B.
A very good article and we must always remember “Black is Beautiful.” Our history is filled with people of substance and possibility. The love of our people is what we must teach our youth. We are beautiful, wonderful people and they have so much to give. Black is one of Our Father’s most brilliant colors and as my mother said once, “We would have all been the same color if it had not been for intermingle with our ancestors. Accept who we are and work to be the very best. We were made in God’s image and likeness, we must look like him.
Antoinette V. Franklin poet, author, educator
Hot topic!. Reminded me of conversation among panelists on similar focus. Overheard were the following bits and pieces:
…There is no such thing as a “white person”. That’s the place which needs to be broken. White people were invented by colonization in a land of a red man who had to be destroyed to take his land…And there was a black slave who was going to work that land…In the middle there were Europeans who had not race but had cultural identities and regional language, etc., but they had no race like white people…They were just many different kinds of people–no color identity. But in America they became white…When to stop the division is not important. What is important is that once you realize that you don’ exist as a “white people,” Blacks will be fine.,,Then you can no longer use “whiteness” as a recourse, or say, “This is what white people think There’s no such thing as “white people”…Everybody else knows that…It’s just that “white people don’t know it…They draw interest from that…We’re all different; some tan, some olive; some have different kinds of noses, this kind of hair and if we recognize these differences, then we can break up the whole nation of what America is…And that would allow us to move forward in a way that makes more sense. Don’t they understand that? If they did, they’d move beyond that…It’s true they, “white people”,
don’t exist; they made it up and hold it against everybody else, and in a way against themselves…
Found the back and forth quite entertaining, interesting and revealing to some.
Postscript to overheard panelists’ points and counterpoints of “whiteness”:
The conclusions and/or suggestions on “whiteness” and its impact in our history as a nation:
Take advantage of the racial past. Think of race as an affirmative, positive resource and not to get anxious in the face of the facts: The truth, that without race, America has no meaning; and to engage this history, to engage this vast, complicated, intermittently driven, contradictory idea and history of race in a way that put it in the service of freedom. Right? That makes it a resource on which all of us can draw; a resource to move toward that place of achieving our country as a place that requires what we shall propose to rid ourselves of the politics of discomfort.