The Power of Words

We all know the connotations attached to words like “black” and “dark.” And what about Negro? The dictionary tells us that the word “negro” is derived from Latin: nigrum: black, dark, dusky, gloomy, unlucky, bad, wicked.

Words such as “negative”: harmful, unconstructive, depressing; “denigrate”: to blacken, defame.

Are we hypersensitive to it? I don’t believe we are. But, as writers, what can we do about it?

Well, I can only speak for myself. After researching America’s awakening to racial pride Marcus Garvey-style for The Color Line, and after digging into the psychosis of “passing” in Bluestone Rondo, I decided to go nothing but positive.

The Weight of a Pearl begins with some standard stereotypes about dark-skinned people. I like to explore the learning process in people, since we came from generations of self-hate. In the early chapters, Pearl (as a child) relates dark skin to her father who beats her, but when she meets her teacher, she begins to understand that color has nothing to do with good and evil.

In the chapters regarding the war in Spain, darkness and blackness carry the positive connation of safety, comfort, and fertility. Getting to Spain is Doc’s goal, so when he is finally close, the term “high, dark distance” symbolizes the nearing of his goal, his job, his destiny.

Enrique pointed into a high, dark distance. “Beyond that ridge we cross into Spain. Our outpost is a cave on the other side of the mountain…a good place to watch the town below. Everything we need is there.”

A few other random examples are:

The connection of the words black and dark to the words fresh, fertile, earth, hallowed, gentle, richness.

…the breeze carried the fresh smell of the blackfertile earth and the pines born here. If there was a hallowed spot left in Spain, this was surely it.

A man comes face-to-face with death. But it is not frightening or evil or gloomy, because he is fighting for innocent people, for his beliefs, and for the nobility of his soul:

The darkness that swallowed him was gentle and black

A man and a woman deeply in love are dancing slowly in a kitchen as the radio plays:

The room was filled with the richness and dark sexuality of Sarah Vaughan’s voice…

There is tremendous power in words. May we all use them with thought and respect for our ancestors.

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