Africans are not black: Why the use of the term 'black' for Africans should be abandoned
Dr Nicholas Kwesi Tsri (University College Dublin)

part of: Critical Philosophy of Race: Here and Now
June 5, 2014, 9:00am - 9:30am
Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Room G22/26, Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
United Kingdom

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  • Institute of Philosophy
  • Institute of Commonwealth Studies
  • Aristotelian Society
  • Mind Association
  • Analysis Trust
  • UCL Department of Philosophy
  • UCL Joint Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies
  • UCL Race Equality Steering Group


Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman
University College London

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Africans are not black: Why the use of the term 'black' for Africans should be abandoned (Tsri)

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.


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