Opinion

Is 'black hole' really a racist term?

The racial burden of word association isn't exactly black and white.

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Did you know "black hole" is now a racist term?

I didn't and neither, apparently, did Dallas County Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield. He told colleagues this month that the traffic ticket collection office had become a black hole, because so much paperwork was getting lost. Two black officials took offense. One retorted that the office had become a "white hole."

Houston Chronicle blogger Eric Berger ("SciGuy") was quick to point out that it's a good thing the traffic center hadn't literally become a white hole – "a theoretical object that ejects matter from beyond its event horizon, rather than sucking it in."

Call it the political correctness space race.

Taking offense at an astronomy term may sound ludicrous, but it's merely an outgrowth of the widespread belief that the English language – along with its countless metaphors and figures of speech – is racially biased and therefore must be defanged.

When her son, Ennis, was killed by a Ukrainian member of a Latino gang in L.A., Camille Cosby (wife of Bill Cosby) penned an Op-Ed saying that America had taught her son's killer to hate and cited negative associations that American society and language pin to the word "black."

"America's educational institutions' dictionaries," she wrote, "define 'black' as harmful; hostile; disgrace; unpleasant aspects of life. 'White' is described as 'decent; honorable; auspicious; without malice.' "

She's got a point: black sheep, dark humor, Black Tuesday – the list goes on. But is the racial burden of word associations really so black and white? We've already learned that a proverbial white hole is worse than a black one. And there are others. Take casinos. Would you rather be holding a stack of white chips in your hand, or a stack of black chips? The black chip is worth $100; the white chip, $1.

Next, what color clothes do most women prefer to wear – black or white? Black is thinning; white is the opposite – and often a no-no. In Karate, would you rather be a black belt or white belt?

WHAT?! You're wearing white shoes after Labor Day? You must be a freak! Indeed, there are only three months out of the year during which it's acceptable for a woman to wear white shoes. And for a man? Only black men can pull off wearing white shoes. Meanwhile, black-tie affairs are the epitome of class and elegance.

In earlier times, the blacksmith was the center of any town's economy. Today, note the derision in the tone with which the phrase "white-collar crime" slithers off the tongue of anyone speaking it. Not that we should whitewash the issue. After all, with fewer white-collar criminals abusing the system, more of us would be in the black.

Between these examples and the fact that America is more often the antidote to, and not the root of, the racism that people bring here with them – from places like Ukraine and Latin America – both Mrs. Cosby and the Dallas traffic collections officials should have a brighter outlook on their place in American society. Especially since white chocolate is revolting and dark chocolate rocks.

Julia Gorin is author of the new humor book "Clintonisms: The Amusing, Confusing and Suspect Musing of Billary."

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