So, this weekend it came to light (in a rather dramatic fashion) that some folks think “colored” is a racial slur.

Not just problematic, but an actual slur whose use warrants expelling a panelist from a professional conference.

That’s gonna be quite a shock to the NAACP.

“Colored” is not, of course, a racial slur.

As the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People amply demonstrates, it can be used respectfully.

It can also be used as a slur, as pretty much any word can; but just using the word when referring to a person is not evidence of bad faith.

There are words that can’t really be used in good faith.

No, I’m not going to provide a list. This isn’t really the place for that, and I don’t really want this blog associated that way in the search engines.

But “colored” is not one of them.

For example, here are two arguments specifically in favor of “colored” being a preferable word that I’ve heard from folks directly affected by the issue:

  • from an activist with very black skin: he felt “colored” was better than “black” since he felt that calling all African Americans “black” ignored the additional difficulties faced by the very dark-skinned in the United States.
  • from a professional with light brown skin: she felt “colored” was better than “black” since it was less specific and more inclusive of the variety of people and experiences being referred to.

I’m not saying either of these people are right (or wrong); their reasons are sensible, though.

But most importantly neither of them was arguing that because of their opinions anyone else was wrong to use “black” or any other term.

They were describing why they choose to use a particular term over another.

And that’s really the problem here: while some words actually are racial slurs and genuinely do exist for no other reason than to be used as insults, most words aren’t.

And there can be good reasons to choose one term over another, and reasonable people can disagree on what choice to make.

And that’s the part that I think is getting lost in the fury of the modern culture wars: reasonable people can disagree about a lot of this stuff.

You probably think you’re obviously right about it all; I certainly think that I am.

But we all need to accept that there’s a range of opinions that all fall within “reasonable” and stop trying to force other people to accept our opinions as the only possibly “correct” ones.

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