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Language plays a critical role in how we perceive the world. The function of language goes beyond expressing ideas and concepts; it shapes thought and defines our collective consciousness. Language should be neutral, unbiased, and reflective of our current realities. In this regard, the dictionaries have work to do specifically around the definitions, related words, and synonyms of the word Black.
Some of the definitions of Black, related words, and synonyms carry the tones of an era when every major societal institution offered legitimacy to racial hierarchy and hence began the demonization of all things Black. In the first publication of the American dictionary of the English language in 1828 by Noah Webster, Black (adj) is firstly defined as “Pale,” “To lighten,” “To expose to the sun or Bleach.” There were only two negative uses of the word - Wicked (A Black deed) and Dismal/Mournful (A Black Day) in that edition. Over time, this has become more antagonistic to the extent that there are no positive definitions, related words, or synonyms of the word Black in any dictionaries. Some of the descriptions read, “characterized by hostility or angry discontent” “not conforming to a high moral standard; morally unacceptable.” Synonyms include bad, dark, evil, immoral, sinful, nefarious, oppressive, unethical, rotten, sinful, threatening, unlawful, unrighteous, unsavory, vicious, vile, villainous, wicked, wrong. I challenge anyone to respond with a sentence that uses the word Black in the context of immorality or hostility, as y defined above, that wouldn't sound wildly inappropriate today to any listener.
Black is synonymous with luxury (American express “Black Card” or the Black Tier is usually a luxury tier “Uber Black”) and formality ( a Black tie event). It is considered timeliness and classic (the little black dress). In business, being in the Black means profitable. These positive words and associations in modern language are absent from most dictionaries, even though these associations with Black are not new.
George Orwell once wrote, “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” This message is evident in real-world experiences. In 1994 time magazine ran a cover of O.J Simpson titled “An American Tragedy.” His skin color was altered and significantly darkened in this feature to make him appear more menacing, threatening, and criminal! This demonstrates a real-world application of these definitions to humans, specifically Black People.
The choices in front of us are straightforward - Do we sit back and do nothing while we watch a new generation pick up the hateful indoctrinations of an evil past? Or Do we act now to shape the future by having a fair review of language to ensure that it is appropriate, balanced, neutral, and most of all current?
Follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr, Muhammed Ali, and other leaders before us who advocated for this change over 60yrs ago. We acknowledge the fantastic work of Kenya Dixon and the My Black is Beautiful campaign, which led to the first fundamental review in recent years.
Join us and sign the petition below. For every signature, we send a letter on your behalf.