Black History Month Screening: Africans are not Black

‘Africans are not black: Why the use of the term ‘black’ for Africans should be abandoned’

Dr Nicholas Kwesi Tsri (UCD)

You do not need to watch the lecture before coming. We will screen it, then discuss it afterwards.

Abstract: This paper considers how we refer to social groups as an important question for egalitarian politics. It argues that the use of the terms ‘black’ and ‘white’ as categories, together with the symbolic use of these terms, helps to sustain the perception of Africans as inferior. This is because the categorical uses of ‘black’ and ‘white’ were accompanied by a long-standing set of conceptual relationships that used ‘black’ and ‘white’ symbolically to connote a range of bad and good traits respectively. This set of associations, which may or may not have constituted racism, did, however, create an underlying semantic system that normalised the assumed superiority of those labelled white and the assumed inferiority of those labelled black, an inequality of recognition that helps to make other inequalities seem legitimate. The use of this dichotomy as a human categorising device cannot be separated from its symbolic use. It is therefore incumbent on egalitarians to abandon either the symbolic or the categorical use of the dichotomy. I argue that abandoning the categorical use is the preferable option because the negative symbolism of the term ‘black’ is deeply embedded in the English language and Christianity, both of which continue to play an important role in contemporary British and Irish societies. About: Dr Nicholas Kwesi Tsri, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Social Justice at University College Dublin, holds a PhD (in Equality Studies from UCD), two MAs (in Ethics and Morality from Université Marc Bloch, Strasbourg, France, and in Translation Studies from Dublin City University), and two BAs (in Anthropology and Theology from Milltown College of Philosophy and Theology, Dublin, and in Philosophy from the Institute of Philosophy, Ejisu, Ghana). He plans to publish his dissertation as ‘Africans are not Black: The Case for Conceptual Liberation’.

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