Spurious Etymology: The Racial Edition




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
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. 

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