Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"Black books" & "White books"

It don't like the term “minority health,” which is supposed to mean the health of minorities. Even more disagreeable is the term “black books,” which is supposed to mean books by or for the African-American population. I use to think that my dislike for these terms was yet another example of my weirdness.

But now I can finally explain my mind's thoughts…

Consider the words of Richard Suzman, who in trying to give a possible explanation for a study’s finding that the English are healthier than the Americans says, “Minority health in general is worse than white health.” [See the link to the study to see where he’s going with this statement, but finish this post first.]

White health. Did you catch that? Health is white? It has a color? I know he meant the health of whites. But the nebulousness of this term (by itself) renders it almost meaningless. (Imagine someone who is just learning the English language. What do you think her/his reaction to this term would be?) And this tells me that “Minority health” is equally imprecise and nonsensical, although for some reason it has been adapted into people’s vernacular.

Similarly, you rarely hear of (and I have never heard of) “White books,” and hearing it now, from my own lips, sounds so odd. But I hear and see the term “black books” quite frequently.

I know that my objection to these kinds of shortcuts in language is in the direction in which it always seems to lie, and because these terms tend to (albeit subtly) have negative associations and tend to signal a sense of “exception.” It is as if we want the world to know that “black health” or “minority health” isn’t the normal or regular kind of health and that “black books” isn’t the normal or regular kind of books. These terms were probably used innocently, but they produce an effect, and we have to ask ourselves if this effect is desirable.

We like to categorize EVERYTHING, but such categorization is also a major hindrance to encouraging interaction between diverse groups. When you keep breaking a whole into little pieces, it becomes increasingly difficult to make those pieces form a stable whole.

As an aside, I appreciate Suzman’s balanced use of the terms discussed above--if you're going to use them, use them well, without bias or favoritism. What he said is better than saying," Minority health in general is worse than the health of whites." At least I think so.

By the way, be sure to check out that study's findings. They are quite interesting.

Well, I’m going back to studying.

Technorati tag:


Post a Comment

<< Home