Paul R. Lehman, Black Friday, not African American Friday

December 5, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Posted in American Racism, Media and Race, Race in America | 2 Comments
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Although it might seem needless, now is as good a time as any to fully understand why it is important to change the usage of words black and African American. Black Friday was not an African American holiday.  Sure, it might sound humorous to some people, but confusing the economic term black with the social usage of the word black can be problematic for those who do not know the difference.

America has gotten comfortable with using the term black and African American interchangeably, thinking that either one is sufficient for identifying African Americans. The fact of the matter is that the words are not interchangeable—they do not mean the same thing. However, when society adds to the confusion by using the economic term “in the black,” the problem becomes more complex. The term Black Friday has a number of meanings in itself.  September 24th, 1869, a Friday, was the day after the market crashed because of an unsuccessful attempt by some money managers to control the gold market; it led to a depression and the term ‘Black Friday.”In this context, the term has a negative connotation.

Recently, the day following Thanksgiving has been called “Black Friday” because retailers hope to make enough money to put their businesses back on the plus side of the financial ledger, or “in the black ink.”The use of the term in this sense is a positive one because it is a financial term that speaks to the positive effect of money in a business or a financial market.

The term black has many symbolic uses, some positive, some negative; however, when the word is used to identify African Americans, no clear connotation or denotation is apparent. Why? Simply because the word black is basically a color that is being used symbolically to represent things too big for it to contain, namely, African Americans, their social history and American presence. For example, when someone makes the statement that “Blacks today are better informed politically than blacks were in the early ‘60’s”a problem is created. The question might seem legitimate on the surface, but exactly who is the question addressing –African Americans or all people with a black skin complexion? Since America is a country of multi-cultures and multi-ethnic groups with a large range of skin complexions, to who is the question directed? The assumption is that the statement addresses African Americans, but that is not what it says; it say blacks.

Historically, African Americans have been referred to as Negroes, blacks, colored, cuffs, spooks, and a host of other names—none of them appropriate or accurate. Since the terms were assigned to African Americans, they did not reflect the positive elements that are necessary in identifying and defining an ethnic group. If each of the terms were examined for their denotative value, they would all come up lacking in specificity. For example, the term Negro is from the old Latin language meaning black. So in essence, by referring to African Americans today as black, no progress has been made since slavery in creating and defining them as an unique ethnic group. As stated earlier, the term black identifies a color, not a language, a culture, a history or a people. So, for society to continue using the term black as a reference to African Americans shows either ignorance or disrespect or both.

No one is advocating changing Black Friday to some other name, because in the context in which it is used, it is appropriate. The change should come in discontinuing using the term black to identify African Americans. Any person familiar with the term black as a reference to African Americans and not familiar with the historical significance of the term might easily confuse Black Friday as having some connection to African Americans or blacks in general. As a matter of fact, craigslist closed down a site that was written by a bigot trying to imitate an uneducated African American crook with the following text:

“Damms Eyes ates at the mission got a freeze turkey that eyes stold. Blacks friday is our nigger day, mees and leroy will be waiting on use at the malls.”

The writer of the above text shows his/her ignorance in language, syntax, grammar, spelling, and logic. Whatever the text was attempting to represent failed because it fell flat on its face. No doubt that the day, Black Friday, was the stimulus for the text and the bigotry felt provided the fuel to create the message. This example of ignorance and/confusion proves my point that the term black should no longer be used as interchangeable with African American.

Friday has been called the unluckiest day of the week and many superstitions have accumulated about it. When the color black is added to it, all the additional negative symbolic references of black create a more powerful set of superstitions. The problem revolves around the lack of reason many Americans have which creates a stumbling block to their understanding of even simple things in life. They prefer to rely on someone else to tell them what to believe and defend. Lyrics from a still popular song by the Doobie Brothers state to reality of the problem clearly:

What a fool believes, he sees

No wise man has the power to reason away

What seems to be is always better than nothing



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  1. Such a sensible simple concept, but so difficult to do.

  2. I enjoyed how you made a reference to the Doobie Brothers at the end.

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