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Racism shows up in many everyday expressions. There is pervasive symbolism of “white” as positive and “black” as negative in the English language. Words like “blackmail” (related to extortion), “blackball” (rejection), “blacklist” (banishment) and “black market” (illicitness) are so woven into the fabric of our language that we often don’t reflect on their racist overtones. The meaning of these phrases is always something undesirable. It perpetuates a systemic stigma caused by using the same terms that describe the color of our skin as a delineation between good and bad. Based on our use of these words, “black” is bad and “white” is good.

study of the use the terminology found that it not only reflects racist culture, but also serves to reinforce, legitimize and perpetuate it. The study also noted that the word “Whiteness” has 134 synonyms in English, 44 of which are favorable and only 10 which appear to have mild negative implications. The word “Blackness” has 120 synonyms, 60 of which are distinctly unfavorable and none of which are positive.

Why should we reconsider this use of the words “black” and “white” in our language? Regardless of political leanings or ancestry, there is no benefit to creating dissonance between our colleagues and ourselves. The negative impacts are recognized from the publishing field to the psychotherapy community.

Thandiwe Dee Watts-Jones, a Black therapist who is aware of the pervasive power of language, highlights the negative impacts of these terms in everyday language that reminds Black people of the negative associations of blackness. Watts-Jones emphasizes the importance of speaking up in the face of values and practices that oppress.

Racism shows up in many everyday expressions and it’s time to reflect on moving forward now that we are more enlightened. Instead of glossing over them, stop and reflect on the potential impact. Then consider other words you can use as a replacement. For example, Maven, a project management company, opted to use the phrase “blocklist” instead of “blacklist” and “allowlist” instead of “whitelist.” Also, with Grammarly, users are encouraged to replace the word “blacklist” with “blocklist” or “denylist” because “the term blacklist may be considered outdated or not inclusive.”

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