In China once something is dark it’s labelled as black. There are no different hues or shades. If it’s not white and light it’s black. Asking a question such as “Why don’t you like nights?” would receive a response such as “It’s too black…” At first I thought it was just a misunderstanding and mistranslation but when you examine the word black on a global scale you realise that is has always had a negative connotation no matter the language.
A simple internet search will show five definitions of the adjective black all of which are associated with evil or something bad. We have compound words such as blackmail, blacklist, blackout, blackball and then we have economic and cultural references such as black market, black tires, black cats, black magic and the list goes on…while white is seen as serene, pure and angelic. I think the only thing that we have a one up on is that I’ve yet to see a black tissue haha. If you’ve seen one please let us know.
If we should study the etymology of the word black we’d trace it back to a time when it meant colourless or wan. In Old English “blac” meant fair, someone devoid of colour, similar to the word “blanc” which means white. In Middle English the word was spelt as “blaec” same thing as the modern “black” only at that time around 1051 AD, it still meant fair skin. It was not until the 16th century that the semantic broadening of black occurred- both figurative connotations as well as literal. From “black, blake, bleaken, baccen” and their literal meaning “to bleach out or make white, blond or pale” came the figurative meaning “to stain someone’s reputation. Literally black came to mean darken.
Throughout the evolution of history, black has moved from meaning lack of colour to being supplementary for “bad”. In Jamaica, we would often hear people say “anything too black nuh good”. As a child, I thought nothing of it because that’s just what I was exposed to. However, it dates back to the colonial days when the slave masters of our ancestors would pit them against each other based on their level of melanin. Today colourism is prevalent in Black society where ‘light-skinned’ is deemed more beautiful than a darker-skinned person. Comments such as “she’s pretty for a dark girl” or “he looks good for a dark-skinned man” are tossed around every day among our community. These statements and way of thinking do not only affect our self-esteem but also our livelihood and career advancements. A friend once said, “colourism coincides with classism. And classism coincides with capitalism and capitalism is a cornerstone of democracy”.
China is “supposedly” against capitalism but the ESL market itself is one of the biggest economic honey pot with racism and colourism churning prevalently. There are ads explicitly stating “only whites” or there is a different salary scale for whites vs Black people. Tell me, as a people have we really evolved? In predominantly white countries the Chinese face their own level of racism which they (rightly) cry out against yet it is being practised on their soil, every single day. We come here with our beautiful, educated selves and we’re literally seen as a colour.
A Chinese coworker once said to me “we love Taylor Swift…Beyonce looks too strong”. His statement literally stunned me into silence. He said it so simply as if it was the most normal thing to say. I experienced a myriad of emotions while processing this. Shock at how matter of fact he was. Anger because I know that the reason he said that was because Taylor Swift fit the “standard”. Pity because he was so blissfully ignorant about how much beauty we possessed both inside and out. Sad because his comment and thinking was the norm. Fear because I don’t know when this will change. Indifferent because I know that I’m magical regardless of their definition. Hope because I have a platform and an opportunity to educate. And Pride because in spite of the bricks being thrown our way we are still able to break every single one and claw through the muddle to the life we so rightfully deserve.
Black is associated with power, fear, mystery, strength, authority, elegance, formality, death, evil, and aggression, authority, rebellion, and sophistication. Black is required for all other colours to have depth and variation of hue. Basically black makes everything look better.
Which one do you choose? The black that they’re afraid of. You know that one that screams magic and excellence! Or the black that they labelled us for fear that one day we will recognise how powerful we truly are.
Shauna Reeves is a Jamaican native currently living and teaching in China creating her own version of "eat, pray, love". A young woman with a curious mind as well as a passionate reader; this is Shauna's first foray into writing. The gift of gab and storytelling is one of those skills passed down from her dad, who used to regale the family with many lores.