The recent controversy over ‘taking a knee’ reminded me of something that bothers me from time to time. Goodness knows I’m not a crusader. But maybe it’s time for me to take a stand, no matter how small the platform I inhabit, and shine a light for change.
I’ve been meaning to write to Romance Writers of America but I’m reluctant because of some of the flame wars I’ve seen in forums from folks reacting strongly to topics. It’s not a burning item on my agenda and I doubt anything I say will have any influence. Usually stuff like this doesn’t bother me (I live in Canada, eh!) but since the debate is raging about diversity, I figured I’d add my two cents worth.
I refer to the term ‘Black Moment’, used in fiction writing to signify major crisis, despair, loss, etc.
Every time I see or hear that phrase, I cringe. Here’s a ‘see what I see’ exercise – substitute any word like Native or Slavic or Disabled or Gay for ‘black’. Does it sound right or does it make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up just a little?
Some will accuse me of being overly sensitive, but that would be inaccurate. Team names like ‘Redskins’ and ‘Eskimos’ bother me as well, but that’s not my fight. Just as we are moving towards greater inclusivity and away from being judgmental about what’s different, so should we be aware of the power of words to hurt or heal. Especially in the U.S., there is so much heavy history relating to racial matters. Millions of people were called ‘black’ for hundreds of years – that can’t be erased but we have to move on.
I know the term has been used forever, but I’m developing a greater sensitivity to the use of the word ‘black’ to signify the seriously negative or something to be feared – black heart, blackball, black eye, black day, blackguard….
I wish that writers especially could be more creative and use a term like ‘dark’, which doesn’t have any racial connotations (we don’t use the somewhat odd term African-Canadian much up here) or subtle messaging from the word being so freighted with meaning.
There are many archaic turns of phrase we no longer use – poltroon, varlet, chit, beldam, cool cat, floozy, cut-purse – the list is long.
It’s not censorship by any means — more like sensitivity, awareness and accuracy. Let’s have a conversation about why we use certain words or phrases that perhaps have outlived their usefulness.