DEI Language

Here are terms that often causes confusion:








Written by R Peggy Smith (not proof read)  October 12, 2020

Having a common language helps in any conversation.  As steps are taken to increase the diversity of an organizations, it often becomes clear that terminology and word usage can cause misunderstandings.  What may have been common usage at one time may be problematic for some today.  

To get a feeling for this evolution of terminology, I reviewed several books from my library to see how persons who were transported from Africa to "the new world" were referred to over time.

Frederick Douglas wrote during the 1840s and 1850s. He was well educated and was a well known author and orator.  As indicated in the following quotes, he used language of that time. "Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, 'What shall we do with the Negro?' I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us."  "The white man's happiness cannot be purchased by the black man's misery."  He often talked about slaves, as a major focus of much of his work.

A Bondwoman's Narrative, is a novel by Hanna Crafts, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  It is believed the novel was written in the 1850s.  Hanna Crafts, while writing her narrative, tended to be descriptive, mentioning a person's physical characteristics and moral value.  Her primary reference was to whether a person was a slave or not a slave.  She did describe herself as an "illiterate slave girl to keeper of 'a school for colored children.'

In a literary publication in 1948, this work is described as "A fictionalized biography written in an effusive style, purportedly to be the story of the early life  and escape of one Hanna Crafts, a mulatto, born in Virginia, who lived there, in Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, North Carolina.  From internal evidence it is apparent that the work is that of a Negro who had a narrative gift.  Interesting for its content and implications.  Believed to be unpublished." 

Moving ahead a century, the works of James Baldwin provide materials reflective of the mid-20th century.  Baldwin refer to white people and black people when describing individuals. But he uses the term Negro when talking about people in the context of their group identity. 

As mentioned earlier, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was the editor Hanna Crafts novel, which was published in 2002.  Throughout the notes Gates wrote in the editor's introduction, he consistently used the word black to refer to persons of color, be they writers, historical figures, or characters in stories. He did, however, refer to Hanna Crafts as the first female African-American novelist.

Another book written around 2002, Return to Glory, by Alan Grant, is similar to Gates', in that black is used in reference to a person's color, and African-American has a broader group connotation. 

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, published in 2015, brings us closer to present day. Coates' work have many parallels to James Baldwin's, you will not find him using the word Negro.  Typically Coates uses the term black.  He uses it to describe a person's color, their family or group connection, and larger concepts of population.  He also uses the term African American, but often with an implicit connection to slavery's impact.

Now, here we are. I recently became aware of the use of the word Black as a replacement for black. This would be a way to indicate  there is a cultural cohesion related to family, group, or larger population being referenced.   And, here is something I came across just today,  as a League guide to forum questions -- wish it had a date, but you will see the word Black.  The take home message from this blog is: "Be prepared to be wrong." 






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