Kindly Call Me Black
We have to stop promoting ‘color blindness’ as an alternative to racism
Call me Black. Seriously.
I have learned through observation that White people are afraid to use the word “black” to describe Black people. It also seems that they also don’t like talking about being White or being called White. This is true even among some of my closest White friends.
There is this fear, a look over the shoulder, a small pause or hesitation before they use the word Black in particular. Sometimes it’s said in a hushed whisper or sputtered out. Other times, I have to finish the sentence for my White friends and colleagues—even after I’ve asked directly if the person they are referencing is Black.
It took me some time and thought to understand why.
I don’t get offended when people call me Black any more than I get offended when someone calls me a woman or tall or a mother or a retired lawyer. Black to me is as neutral and as effective a way of identifying me as all these others. I don’t take the reference to my race as an insult in most contexts unless it is intended as such. It’s genuinely okay to call me Black in all other instances.
This resistance to using descriptive language around race seems to have come from the idea that color blindness is an effective way to end racism. White people assert repeatedly that they “don’t see color”—including their own. We have had 55 years to test this theory, and if the attempted murder of Jacob Blake and so many other Black bodies is any indication, this approach is not working.
So, why do White people insist on avoiding using racial descriptors? The issue is twofold. On one hand, the idea that Black is a racial slur is perhaps subconsciously premised on another, more sinister idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with being Black, that the word itself is a slur. The idea is that naming Blackness is offensive because being Black is offensive. Relatedly, we tend to use the word black to denote all manner of negative things—blacklist, black magic, blackball—in ways that intrinsically perpetuate this idea that even things or concepts that are black are bad.