Comment Of The Day: “Independence Day With Ethics Alarms 3…Ethics Fireworks (and Duds)!,” Item #5

Extradimensional Cephalopod lassoed itself a Comment of the Day (I love the image of a cepalopod using a lasso!) with his musings on why races were designated “black” and “white,” since the white/black dichotomy is so frequently used to describe good/evil.

Here is his—its?—Comment of the Day on the fifth item (about Twitter banning such words as “whitelist” and “blacklist”) in the post, “Independence Day With Ethics Alarms 3…Ethics Fireworks (and Duds)!”

I’ll be back at the end with a rather lengthy discourse of my own on this subject, because it’s a favorite of mine.

I actually find it annoying that on the one hand, human races (groups of humans who share some similarities in appearance) have historically been identified by colors associated with their skin, while on the other hand, completely independently and before meeting humans from other continents on a regular basis, Europeans started to use colors to indicate whether things are good or bad.

This etymology likely came about because when things rot they often turn black, and because blackness implies darkness (the absence of light), which most humans use to evoke ignorance, fear, or bad luck because they can’t see in the dark. (I use the metaphor of darkness in a much more neutral/benevolent sense, but that’s quite rare.) Interestingly, the color white is associated with death and mourning in many Asian cultures.

With the exception of finance (black ink marking positive numbers and red ink marking negative numbers), most historical evocations of the color black indicate evil, corruption, morbidity, or otherwise something negative. “Black heart,” “blackguard,” “black magic,” “black hat,” “black market,” “blackball,” “blacklist,” “black mark,” “black day,” “black comedy/humor”…

It creates a bit of cognitive dissonance for most humans when the word used to describe a group of humans is, for completely separate reasons, used to symbolize bad things. For this reason I have voluntarily avoided using the words “black” or “dark” to evoke negative connotations. That, and as I said before, I use the metaphor of “darkness” for a completely different purpose: to illustrate empathy, as opposed to light, which illustrates semantics. Both are necessary for effective communication.

If we could move away from identifying people by color, that’d be good. Humans identifying as “Black” may object, but they’ve changed their group self-identification labels several times already, so there is precedent. Identifying human appearances by continent (Europe, Africa, Asia, Americas) is also difficult because humans can move around and live elsewhere. I’d like to get a bunch of humans of the same race in a room together to decide what they themselves want to be called, and watch them tear each other apart. No matter where they’re from, humans never learned to be wise and mature in groups.

I will continue to use “sanity check,” though. I use it in a self-deprecating fashion, when I ask for a sanity check to verify whether my conclusion is sane or not.

***

It’s me, Jack, again.

It is well to remember that it was the whatever-you-call-it race that hails from Africa that decided itself to pick the term “Black,” and then “black,” and now back to “Black” again. For a very ling time “Negro” was considered   respectful, and it was black activists and leadership aho chose Black, decreeing that “Negro” was now disrespectful. Of course, negro means black, and it had similarly replaced the previously used “colored,” which avoided the black distinction entirely, if scientifically inaccurately, since black is the absence of color. The transition to “of color” was always illogical and clunky (“of color” means colored, which is taboo; I refuse to play, and almost never use “of color.”)

Black, I am pretty sure, was settled on by activists in the 1960s because black is considered intimidating, powerful and  kind of cool. Women wear “little black dresses” that are sexy and go with everything. Black suits are considered dignified: in Africa, I discovered, it is considered unethical for lawyers not to wear one. Judges wear black robes, ministers wear black. The Oakland Raiders famously chose black and silver (but mostly black) uniforms to intimidate the opposition. Johnny Cash certainly wasn’t suggesting menace when he branded himself as “The Man in Black.”

As with many other matters in American culture, Western movies had a hand in the image of black and white. Western novels didn’t make white hats and black hats labels for the gunfighters wearing them, but the movies made out of those books did. Having the good guys wear white or light-colored hats and the bad guys wear black hats helped the audiences follow the action. It wasn’t a universally followed convention—Hoppalong Cassidy wore black head to toe; so did Bret Maverick and Paladin on “Have Gun, Will Travel,” and the leader of “The Magnificent Seven” (though the idea was that he was a hired gun doing a good deed who usually didn’t) but the convention was observed frquently enough that “white hat” came to mean “good guy” and “black hat” the opposite.

I was surprised when I bought a paperback of the novel “Shane” and saw that the eponymous hero was pictured in a black hat, unlike Alan Ladd in (perhaps) my favorite Western, whose hat was  white. The joke was that you knew it was an “adult Western” when the good guy wore a black hat. It was no coincidence that John Wayne wore white hats in “Stagecoach,” “Hondo,” “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” “Rio Bravo” and “The Cowboys,” when he was an unequivocal hero, but black hats in “Red River,” “The Searchers,” “The Shootist,” and “True Grit,” in which his characters range from dicey to fanatic to borderline psychopathic (in “The Searchers’).

Okay, that was a tangent. You know, me and Westerns….

The problem isn’t really black and white as far as race designations are concerned. Several linguists have pointed out that a group usually decrees that its old name is offensive and chooses another when it wants to clean the slate: the way the group fared under the old name was linked to negative experiences and outcomes, so the name itself had become negative too. It’s a pure cognitive dissonance scale calculation. See?

If the experiences and results blacks had experienced in the country were mostly in positive territory when they were called “coloreds,” or “Negroes,” or “blacks,” any of those names would be fine now. Until a name coincides with status and outcomes that members of the group deem satisfactory,  the labels will keep changing.

6 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Independence Day With Ethics Alarms 3…Ethics Fireworks (and Duds)!,” Item #5

  1. I watched The Searchers last Friday night. It’s one of my favorites. It is also my understanding that John Wayne named his son Ethan after the character played in that film. It could be urban legend, but that’s his name.

  2. I didn’t realize the history of the selection of the various group appellations. That adds some important perspective. I think that it’s a bad sign when people feel they have to invoke the euphemism treadmill on the labels for their own heritage.

    Nevertheless, I’m eventually hoping to popularize referring to white people as “people of pallor.”

  3. I actually find it annoying that on the one hand, human races (groups of humans who share some similarities in appearance) have historically been identified by colors associated with their skin, while on the other hand, completely independently and before meeting humans from other continents on a regular basis, Europeans started to use colors to indicate whether things are good or bad.

    First, one would have to clarify how it happened that colors became associated with values since this is what is being referred to. In the simplest of terms the colors that are associated with the sky — celestial colors — are contrasted with the terrestrial colors associated with the earth. At one time — not long ago in our history — the Earth was understood to be the place of the densest condensations in the cosmos. In contrast to the dense Earth were all those visible things composed of light and lightness. Certainly the ‘golden sun’ was understood to be the *medicinal eye* of the cosmic king. And the whitish moon was of course associated with silver the queen. But in the Medieval conception — what I often refer to as the Olde Metaphysics — the very center of the Earth was understood to be the most dense point. And it is within these polarities — the earthy and the celestial — that the color associations came to be established.

    Within the so-called ‘humours’ there was *black bile* which was associated with the spleen and with melancholy. Melancholy is a laden concept for the Medieval mind:

    Melancholia (from Greek: µέλαινα χολή melaina chole “black bile”, “blackness of the bile” also Latin lugere lugubriousness to mourn, Latin morosus moroseness of self-will or fastidious habit, and old English wist wistfulness of intent or saturnine) is a mental condition characterized by extreme depression, bodily complaints, and sometimes hallucinations and delusions. Melancholia is a concept from ancient or pre-modern medicine. Melancholy was one of the four temperaments matching the four humours. In the 19th century, “melancholia” could be physical as well as mental, and melancholic conditions were classified as such by their common cause rather than by their properties. It is the predecessor of the mental health diagnosis of clinical depression and still exists as a subtype for major depression known as melancholic depression.

    The name Melania, for example, derives from the Greek word μελανία (melania) meaning “black, dark”. Melanin of course is a cognate.

    The medicinal eye of the sun — the source of light, life, brightness and healing — was of course oppesed to melancholy gloom, foggy shadows, dark interior caves and grottos where strange creatures like bats lived. People that shun the sun’s light were associated with darkness, ill-health, nefarious activities, and of course with the demonic world. Now of course we do not think in angelical or demonic terms, or when we do it is merely in a poetic sense.

    You speak of what *annoys* you — this I understand — and I am often annoyed as well when I discover the sort of self-prejudice and — subtle perhaps — self-condemnation that I notice (or believe I notice) in your statement about when “Europeans started to use colors to indicate whether things are good or bad.” These former notions and color associations certainly were not invented by Europeans. The Olde Metaphysics was actually pretty universal. Our previous notions of ‘the humours’ and our older science of medicine is similar in many ways to Ayurveda.

    It is useful to understand that when Europe came into its power and self-awareness that it did so on a metaphysical level because of how it conceived of God and of course the figure of Jesus and the *Revelation* of divine knowledge. The notion of, the understanding of salvation, could logically only be associated with the brightest of bright manifestations. Thus of course the association of Christ with the sun and with gold: the in-tarnishable metal. The human body or that system which comprised the mind and the body was understood to be a microcosm containing all of the darkest elements but also with access to all of the lightest and liberating elements. Therefore a ‘clouded mind’ and a ‘darkened mind’ was obviously contrasted with a ‘bright mind’ and an ‘illumined mind’. These are associations that remain in our language.

    When the Europeans began to explore their world they looked at their world, of course, through the perception-structure of Medieval metaphysics. They understood themselves not only by virtue of their skin color, their eye color, and their hair color, to be of a lighter variety of human, but it all seemed self-evident when they encountered people who, in their view and understanding, seemed chained and bound by dense earthy currents. Magic and sorcery and the invocation of earthy spirits — the common religiosity of barbarian peoples — was understood by them to be Luciferian bondage. These are very Christian ideas and, of course, they still are very active wherever Christianity is active. That is why St Paul could and did say that the gods of the heathens were devils. When you understand what he meant, or what he compared to that, you can understand how his sense of *value* was arranged.

    When Europeans encountered the world(s) of Africa — the dark continent — they encountered a world so strange and so bound to the Earth that they of course associated the color of the people there with their general condition. The same is largely true all over the world though and it antedates European ascendency. An example is the Indo-European invasion and conquest of the Indian subcontinent. The same conceptual pattern is seen. The very darkest part of India is the south. And as a conquered people they formed a lower strata of society. These are patterns common to the entire planet as far as I have been able to tell.

    I didn’t realize the history of the selection of the various group appellations. That adds some important perspective. I think that it’s a bad sign when people feel they have to invoke the euphemism treadmill on the labels for their own heritage.

    But let’s face it: there are entire ranges of things about which you are totally ignorant. You show in your writing a kind of *stubborn insistence* that you carry some new liberating knowledge. Yet when you talk you reveal all that you do not know and all that you do not understand. And based on reading what you write I think that your ideas are associated with self-contempt. The reason I say this is because European Identity — the discovery of it, the rediscovery of it, the re-empowerment of it, the reanimation of the consciousness of it — is a vital and important task.

    I realize that I am here — generally speaking — among Americans who have in one degree or another been captured and indoctrinated by self-contempt. It is your *contempt of whiteness* that concerns me. It is your self-contempt that must be cured. You entire country is on the verge of going down the tubes and you simply cannot figure our why! You cannot self-identity. You are afraid and even terrorized to do so. You see? So you participate in and you are complicit in what is going on. You are — each in your own way — well within that current. But with each passing day and week this begins to change.

    Black Radicalism is related to anti-colonialism and the Black Radical movement in the United States became Marxist and revolutionary — and remains so — because its purpose is to attack and undermine that which *oppressed* it. However, that is called ‘civilization’. It must be remembered that the Europeans were conquered and civilized by the Mediterranean Romans. It was a similar ‘conquest’ and yet it has made us what we are and given us what we have. These processes of conquest and bringing people (tribes) into a general service of civilization is essentially what we are dealing with.

    • Black Radicalism is related to anti-colonialism and the Black Radical movement in the United States became Marxist and revolutionary — and remains so — because its purpose is to attack and undermine that which *oppressed* it.

      A small addendum if you don’t mind. I write these things out because I am figuring them out as I go. How painful it must be that you-plural are subject to my externalized explorations! 🙂

      The way I understand things is through a question: What do you serve? It is a painful topic, I know, and yet it has to be talked about: The Africans who were forced to serve ‘the white man’s will’ in the ’empire of the white man’s will’ — I speak truthfully here, with no embellishment, no deceptions, no self-deceptions — we ripped out of their context and placed on a wheel of labor. And in the course of that they had to become that which conquered and oppressed them. When I say *had to become* I mean that they had to adopt the value-system, the knowledge-system, the language- and meaning-system of those that oppressed them, those that bound them in service.

      That is the history of the Black African in the United States. That is what it is. When you take a person or a people and you wrench them away from *their context* and *what they are* and force them to be something different and something that serves your power, not their power, you have with that act *laid hands on them*. And those *hands* are the molding hands of civilization. You can read about Nietzsche’s of how Europeans were bound into these processes of conquest and service in Genealogy of Morals. In fact we have been subject to brutal processes. Civilization is, in many ways, a life-long process of self-subjugation. Nietzsche analyses this when he analyzes punishment (and Genealogy of Morals was placed into an ingenious story-form by Kafka in In A Penal Colony).

      The Black rebellion in the United States is, as should be obvious, deeply connected with ‘the freeing of the slaves’. It was as if the European said:

      “Very well, see how righteous I am: I have bequeathed you your freedom. You didn’t even have to fight for it! Now: become just like me and do exactly what I do, serve what I serve, and become what I became”.

      But they do not wish to accept what you offer on your stretched out hand. They want to — they must! — become what their own internal sense dictates.

      If you examine Black Rage (see Paul Moody whose *comedy* routines I have been watching) you will grasp that Black rebellion is based in a sense of contrast, of identity and difference: “We are not you! We don’t want to be you! How can you ask us to become like what we must hate?”

      You — that is you Americans — had this bizarre idea that you would *liberate* your former niggers and dress them in clean white shirts and get them to sing in your choir. To serve your processes. Your institutions. Your laws. Your values. Your Project of Civilization. But the more that you made pseudo-noble efforts to incorporate them, the more you noticed that they showed a will to *bite the hand that fed them*.

      But what that *hand* is — its characteristics, its traits, its essential molding tendency — this remains something that you can’t see. In order to see that *hand* you have to see deeply into your self. And to see Black Rebellion you have to see far more deeply into ‘them’.

      Within *all this* is the conversation that you simply cannot have! It frightens you. The implications — that these two races are essentially incompatible! — is a thought that you cannot think.

      So, what I observe is that people retreat into their illusions.

      Cassandra speaks: You are going to have to take this to the very end. And it is going to be taken to the very end.

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