Stop Using Words Linking Black to Bad

Language can transform society for better or worse.

Jeffrey Kass
ZORA
Published in
5 min readAug 23, 2023

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Black cat has been associated with evil and bad luck
Image: Shutterstock/Ekachai prasertkaew

We know words matter.

When my kids were young, I was hyperaware of the words I used and how I acted. I knew instinctively that my kids were going to learn how to act in this world and how to treat others by observing me rather than what I told them to do or say.

It’s not a controversial concept that if we grow up surrounded by words of kindness, we’re more likely to be loving and kind as adults.

What we don’t realize, though, is that the words we use and hear related to race inform our thoughts and impact our behavior, too.

The organization Reframing Race published a new report titled “Contains Strong Language” to equip society with language tools to change how we unconsciously see race. And to provide diversity, equity, and inclusion activists vital information in their fight to combat racism embedded into our systems.

For hundreds of years, our language when it comes to color has overwhelmingly favored white as good and black as bad.

The Oxford English Dictionary for five centuries associated black with bad.

In the 16th century, the word “black” was referred to as “having dark or deadly purposes, malignant; pertaining to or involving death, deadly; baneful, disastrous, sinister.”

The dictionary included such phrases as “black curse,” “black lie,” “blackest criminals,” “black name,” “black edict” and “black enemy.”

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the dictionary expanded its negative use of black to include things associated with sorrow, gloom, and a dire outlook. It’s where “a black outlook” was first defined as pessimistic and a “bright” one as hopeful.

The color black in language has been associated with all things evil for centuries.

Black magic. Black Plague. Blackmail. Black sheep. You know the list.

We use words like “blacklist” to describe people who are excluded from something.

“Blackball,” while not originating from race, uses the color black to reinforce this negative concept.

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Jeffrey Kass
ZORA
Writer for

A Medium Top Writer on Racism, Diversity, Education, History and Parenting | Speaker | Award-Winning Author | Latest Book: Black Batwoman V. White Jesus | Dad