— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If we grew up in America, we grew up “White.” We grew up drowned in myths of Black inferiority and White supremacy, our bellies full of someone else’s self-hate and loathing, our tongues speaking someone else’s language, our beliefs rooted in someone else’s myths.
We need to learn a new language, or to resurrect one we have spoken over the centuries. We need a language other than this one, the “English” language where Webster’s Dictionary is used all over the world, a language where definition matters as much as tone and context. This is what is still being fed to the world about white and black 394 years after the African American was birthed into the world through slavery in what we now call America.
Webster’s Online Open Dictionary 2011 offers the following definitions of “white”:
“Free from color; of the color of new snow or milk; being a member of a group or race characterized by light pigmentation of the skin; characteristic of, or consisting of white people or their culture [from the former stereotypical association of good character with northern European descent]: marked by upright fairness (that’s mighty white of you); free from spot or blemish; free from moral impurity: innocent; marked by the wearing of white by the woman as a symbol of purity (a white wedding); not intended to cause harm (a white lie, white magic); favorable, fortunate (one of the white days of his life — Sir Walter Scott); conservative or reactionary in political outlook and action.”
Webster’s Online Open Dictionary 2011 offers the following definitions of “black”:
Of the color black; very dark in color (his face was black with rage); having a very deep or low register (a bass with a black voice); heavy, serious; having dark skin, hair, and eyes: swarthy (the black Irish); of or relating to the African-American people or their culture (black literature, a black college, black pride, black studies); typical or representative of the most readily perceived characteristics of black culture (trying to sound black, tried to play blacker jazz); dirty, soiled (hands black with grime); characterized by the absence of light (a black night); thoroughly sinister or evil: wicked (a black deed); indicative of condemnation or discredit (got a black mark for being late); connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil (black magic); marked by the occurrence of disaster; characterized by or connected with the use of black propaganda (black radio); characterized by grim, distorted, or grotesque satire (black humor); of or relating to covert intelligence operations (black government programs).”
So, let me get this straight:
Webster’s says that if I am “White” I am free from blemish, free from moral impurity; and in fact, if that weren’t enough, I am innocent! The actual definition admits that the origin of some of the meanings is “from the former stereotypical association of good character with northern European descent” but makes no apology about the fact that such myths can’t possibly be true.
The myths defy the reality.
The only thing that caused me to chuckle to myself was when I read that the phrase “That’s mighty white of you” means “marked by upright fairness.” I had to laugh — that’s not what that phrase means in the village!
Now, let’s see what Webster’s has to say to the babies of our village:
If I am Black, I am heavy, serious, “black with rage.” I am swarthy, dirty, soiled, and characterized by the absence of light. Me and mine? We are “thoroughly sinister and evil,” marked by the occurrence of disaster, and characterized by hostility or angry discontent. Really?
Wait, that’s not enough, says Webster’s! Me and mine? We Blacks are “connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil.” And being Black? Well, Webster’s says that it’s indicative of condemnation or discredit (got a black mark for being late). We could add “blackballed” and a thousand others, but I think you get it now.
This monstrosity of hate and lies we are up against is bigger than any one of us. The survival of our people depends now on our unity. Malcolm reminded us that we aren’t catching hell because we’re Baptist or Muslim; we’re catching hell because we’re Black!
We need to drop all the divisions in the village. No matter how old. No matter how deep. We must forgive our own this time and every time they need it, as often as they need it, to keep us whole. Stokely Carmichael said that we have to take care of “them,” those who look like us but don’t work for our good. He said we have to take care of them because they are ours.
Join the movement for Black Independence. Learn. Think. Teach. Resist.
Change the definition. Free our future.
Lissa Jones welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.