In January 2012 Liverpool player Luis Suarez was given a £40,000 fine for calling Man United player Patrice Evra ‘a negrito’. Suarez claimed that he meant no offence by it, since in his country ‘negrito’ is a term of affection. No doubt like ‘sambo’ used to be in this country!
In the same month Chelsea and England captain John Terry was charged with racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. TV pundit Alan Hansen had to apologise for using the term ‘coloured’ when discussing the issue. But former Prime Minister’s daughter Carol Thatcher made an even bigger gaff when she referred to mixed-race French tennis player Jo Wilfried Tsonga as a ‘frog golliwog’, apparently thinking that this was perfectly acceptable. Some white people of a certain age still think that terms like ‘golliwog’ and ‘coloured’ are OK, but they tend to be old people who still refer to Muhammad Ali as Cassius Clay, and the radio as ‘the wireless’.
You have to feel sorry for white people. They don’t know what to call us these days. It used to be ‘coloured’, then it became ‘Black’, then ‘Afro-Caribbean’, then ‘African-Caribbean’. Now it’s ‘BME’. Poor white people, – they just can’t keep up.
Everyone should know by now that the term ‘nigger’ is offensive and should never be used, but white people get confused when they hear their Black friends using the term amongst themselves as a term of affection. Does that mean that they are also allowed to use it, as long as no offence is intended?
Anyone who works with local authorities will be familiar with the term B.M.E. (meaning Black and Minority Ethnic). This is the current politically correct term to describe us Black folks, and anyone who isn’t white and English. Personally I don’t like the term – you’re reducing all these diverse races and cultures down to three letters – not even a word, but just three letters. It sounds like a disease like CJD, or H.I.V. or B.S.E. I prefer the term Black.
It began to replace the term ‘negro’ in the US in the 1960’s as the parallel between the words ‘black and white was meant to underscore the quality of the races. In the 90’s ‘Black’ was replaced by ‘Afro-American’ and then ‘African-American’. In 2001 even the word ‘minority’ was banned by the San Diego city council because it was deemed disparaging to non-whites. ‘No matter how you slice it, minority means less than’, said a Boston College official, where the preferred term is AHANA – an acronym for African- American, Asian, and Native American.
But let’s re-examine that term ‘Black’. It is a political term intended to unify that mixed group that white people throughout the hundreds of years of slavery, imperialism, and colonialism had tried to divide and conquer.
According to the racist ideology that was adopted in the Caribbean, North America and South Africa, (and still evident in the colonised minds of Black folks the world over) the lighter/closer to white you were the better, exemplified in the poem ……….
‘If you’re white you’re alright, if you’re brown stick around, but if you’re Black get back’!
In South Africa’s Apartheid system, people were divided into Blacks, whites and Coloureds. In North America they went even further, dividing slaves and their descendants into ‘Negro’, ‘half-caste’, ‘mulatto’, ‘quadroon’, and ‘octaroon’ depending on how much white blood they had in them. The one thing that they could never be was white, as that would give them the same property rights as whites and would run the risk of the slave master’s illegitimate children claiming their share of the master’s estate. So Blacks were kept as second class citizens with the ‘One Drop’ law – meaning that if you had just one drop of Black blood in you, you were counted as Negro. This has led to the strange modern day phenomenon of celebrities of mixed parentage like Mariah Carey identifying themselves as Black, and actress Halle Berry, (who herself has one black and one white parent) saying that she will raise her daughter (who’s father is white) as Black.
By ‘claiming’ Black rather than trying to ‘pass’ for white (which presumably would lead to an easier life), these people of mixed parentage are displaying their allegiance. Unlike Mariah, Tiger Woods resisted attempts to categorise him as Black, preferring the term ‘Cablinasian’ to reflect the full diversity of his parents multi-cultural ancestry. (His father Earl was of African-American, Chinese and Native-American ancestry, his mother Kutilda is of Thai, Chinese and Dutch descent).
These recent changes in terminology are supposedly for greater accuracy, since Black people don’t actually have Black skin, just as Chinese people are not actually yellow, and Red Indians are not red or even from India! By using the term ‘Native-American’ instead it shows who was there first. The term ‘African-American’ shows that the Black people in America actually had a history that pre-dated slavery. However this quest for accuracy has not sent people scrambling for a more accurate term for the descendants of Europeans. Perhaps the fact that you never hear the term ‘European American’ or ‘white Australian’ is indicative that despite historical facts to the contrary, the descendants of white European immigrants are viewed as the natural inhabitants of these countries.
The fact is that people are so sensitive about finding politically correct terms for ethnic groups is because we are the oppressed weaker party. White people don’t care what they are called because they are the dominant group with all the power. They control the political agenda, the allocation of resources, the educational curriculum, and yes even the use of language. Fiddling around with the labels we have is not going to change that.