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Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Today a young friend of mine and I had a discussion about some words. There are some words she finds offensive. I, on the other hand, am of the mindset words don’t really mean anything. I suppose I’m promoting a different version of the actions speak louder than words school of thought.

The words my friend and I were discussing are the derogatory type. You know, the kind of words some people use to insult others. The kinds of words that most of our society considers to be politically incorrect, especially when directed at someone who is of a different race than you.

I thought my friend would be offended by the usual words used to describe blacks. To my great surprise she told my she found the word “colored” to be as offensive as the word “nigger”, or “cracker”. I say this came as a great surprise to me because I grew up in Pensylvania during the Civil Rights era. I grew up knowing that I, and my whole entire family is colored. There was no shame in being Negro or "colored". It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I became politically astute to accept being called “black” as a compliment. Where I grew up if anyone called you black those were fightin’ words. It reminds me of the line from a Richard Pryor comedy routine, “Don’t call me black! I’m a Negro.” It was an indication of moving forward in my racial societal evolution. For all my previous life I had been proud to be a Negro or “colored”. When in reality to the rest of the world I was black. It was a revelation to me. My skin is brown, not black. Why call me black? Negro is the Spanish word for black. I knew that from my 9th grade Spanish class. I just never put the two together. I’d been called black all the time. In fact my whole entire family was called black. I didn’t even know it.

My younger friend explained to me her experience with the word “colored” and why she found the term to be offensive. She grew up in North Carolina. She said it reminded her older family members of a time when blacks, coloreds, Negroes and/or niggers were kept apart from the rest of the society by those signs that designated certain unequal areas for blacks to receive food or hotel accommodation, or use public toilets or even drink from a water fountain. I gathered from my younger friend that her relatives, who are probably my age had mixed feelings about being "colored". On one hand they knew they were just as good as anyone, but on the other hand they were made to feel ashamed of being "colored". In her family when the Jim Crow laws were wiped off the books by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title II and Title III, the term “colored" was relegated to the trash heap.

I never thought of it that way. You learn something new everyday.