I was in my graduate education class on racial inequality when a fellow student, a well-careered, educated, respected black man told us, “The term picnic is derived from ‘pick-a-nigger,’ when white people would choose a black man to lynch during their outdoor meals.”
Yesterday, I came across a thread shared on Facebook by someone I also respect and whose views I take seriously: “Boycott Black Friday: The term ’Black Friday’ comes from the practice of slave owners selling their human property for cheap so they can help prepare the landowners for winter.”
At the risk of opening a dialogue, which is my intention, it is my opinion that forwarding and repeating these false and fake etymologies pour gasoline on what is already a virulent flame.
It is my opinion that inaccurate messages like these water down what are factual and horrifying truths about race relations in this country (and around the world). By fomenting these untruths, we are diluting and falsifying a message that is already true enough and already has more than enough evidence: Taken as a whole, Whites continue to be opportunist against, ignorant toward, and oppressive of Blacks.
That’s the message we do see rightly repeated through Cory Booker's article being passed around asking people to substitute the name “Rodney King” with “Michael Brown.” It’s the message we need to see when the yearbook-looking page of young brown faces scrolls through our thread, a litany of the most “popular” crimes, an egregiously low accounting of the true number of racial homicides, abuses, and discriminations.
There is a message here that is already true enough, one that is, unfortunately, infinitely repeated, and that is the injustice, the malevolence, and the strict adherence to a status quo of hatred.
I cannot say I “stand with” Ferguson. To say that is to assume that I have any idea whatever what it is to live in a skin that is not my own. I can’t rightly say that I can sympathize with a race of friends that have been abused, ignored, or turned against singly for their color.
I don’t know what that is like, and I won’t presume that I do. I know that I find it a vicious and terrifying symptom of a culture of fear and insistence on the labeling of “other.” I know that I can feel pain for the families, for the friends, for the history of violence. But, I will never be able to truly know what it is like to be discriminated against or singled out as a bad influence, a person of interest, a danger.
And because of this, because of my own inability to truly "get it," the existence of truth seems all the more crucial. I, we, all need to know what is happening, to sit with the discomfort and the horror of truth, if there will ever ever be a possibility for change. And I am ignorant enough to hope it is possible, and bitter enough to assume that it isn’t.
But I ask that the message that is already so potent, powerful, and real not be diluted with fake etymologies, like ‘picnic’ or ‘Black Friday.’
What we are seeing, experiencing, and shutting down malls over doesn’t need the support of those falsehoods. Unfortunately, we have plenty of evidence of a war against blacks without them.