Whenever the topic of ‘taking a knee’ comes up, I’m reminded of something that needs to change. 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. 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 thinking folks are more attuned to the power of language and how increasing equity and diversity improves politics, literature, institutions and relationships, 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 ethnic or religious group descriptor, or a gender expression/identity or differently abled for ‘black’. Does it sound silly, or oddly out of place?
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 another fight for respect and justice. 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.
Canada has nothing to be proud of – there are many ugly incidents in our history. Conditions in some Indigenous communities continue to be appalling. How many of us would stand for having to boil our drinking water for decades, or experience substandard health care and education? Especially in the U.S., where politics is a blood sport, and the previous fringe-dwellers have become empowered, there is so much heavy history relating to racial matters. Millions of people were called ‘black’ for hundreds of years – one way to dehumanize a race that had culture, music, science and mathematics long before their countries were ‘discovered’ then spoiled, and their people snatched into slavery.
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, either) 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 have outlived their usefulness in the 21st century.