The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Addy’s Advice: Black History Month


Dear Reader,

Language is hard. Words have complicated meanings, connotations and sometimes they have horrible histories of oppression. On top of that, the meanings of words are always changing. A word that used to be widely accepted may seem derogatory now, or a word that used to be derogatory may now be widely accepted.

As someone who is a member of many different marginalized groups, I have often felt targeted by someone else’s language. However, I’ve also had moments when I didn’t know the right word. I’d find myself second-guessing the word I wanted to use, mentally crossing it out and choosing another word, only to decide that one was bad too. Then I’d just stay silent. I’d decide that no words were better than potentially hurtful ones, and then spend hours combing the internet for different opinions on what to say. All this to say, I don’t judge people who don’t know the right words all the time, as long as they’re willing to learn. So, if you’re interested in learning about some vocabulary related to Black History Month, keep reading!

Black or African American?

Black and African American do not mean the same thing. Black is a race and African American is an ethnicity. An African American is an American that has African ancestry. Not all Black Americans identify as African Americans; for example, someone from Jamaica may define their ethnicity as Jamaican, not African American, since Jamaica is in the Caribbean, not Africa.

When talking about race, it’s important not to shy away from the correct terminology. The word “Black” isn’t a slur and it shouldn’t be treated as such. Being Black is more than a race, for many it is a cultural identity and a point of pride. Refusing to use a word that is important to so many people’s identities can be both hurtful and counterproductive. Without using the correct vocabulary, there cannot be productive conversations about race.

Why can’t white people say the n-word?

The n-word was used during slavery and was intertwined with the idea that Black people are not human beings. It continues to be used in a derogatory way by non-Black people today. The word is very powerful. Some Black people use the word to reclaim it along with the power it holds. Black people using the n-word in a more positive context helps to change the dehumanizing meaning of the word, which is rooted in racism and enslavement.

The word becomes a symbol of surviving oppression instead of being oppressed. However, since white people benefited from slavery and white people are still advantaged today due to their race, white people using the n-word in any way is enforcing those systems, not reclaiming the word in any way. The intent of a white person saying the n-word does not matter, it will always be offensive. It’s not appropriate to ask for an “n-word pass” because it ignores the history behind the word. Just because one Black person says something is okay, it doesn’t mean that it won’t offend others.

What does Black Lives Matter mean?

Black Lives Matter condemns the unjust killings of Black people by police. It is a movement of people around the world that began in 2013 after the murderer of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black boy, was acquitted. Something important to understand is that Black Lives Matter means that Black Lives Matter too, not necessarily more than those of other races. But emphasizing that Black lives matter is a critical idea, since historically, the lives of Black people have been treated as less important.

That’s all my advice for now!

Your favorite logophile (lover of words),

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