Why Whispering the Word 'Black' Isn't Politically Correct

January 13th 2017

Sequoia Holmes

Mircoagressions in the workplace are common for many people of color. There may be a colleague or ally who unintentionally finds themselves the culprit of a microaggression by doing something as seemingly harmless as whispering the word "black" in an attempt to be politically correct.

While this may seem like the woke thing to do, hit show "Insecure" perfectly tackled the subject.


The eight-episode HBO series' main character named and portrayed by the show's creator, Issa Rae, Issa spends much of her time in the workplace trying to figure out the best ways to address the borderline racially offensive things said by her coworkers.

In an episode titled “Real As Fuck,” Issa takes her white coworkers to Baldwin Hills - a wealthy, predominantly black neighborhood near South Los Angeles. All of her coworkers seemed floored at how “nice” the neighborhood appears and one of them says to the group, “Someone told me it’s the black Beverly Hills.”


Whispering the word black when discussing black people, communities, culture, etc. might sound like a good option in a time of people being hyper aware of political correctness, but here are three reasons why it’s actually quite problematic and offensive. 

1. It comes from a place of false “colorblindness.”

We are often taught that pointing out someone’s race is rude or somehow racist, so instead, people pretend to be colorblind, or "unable to see race." While “colorblindness” it itself is a problem, avoiding any talk of race or whispering a person's race is part of a deeper problem. Race theory expert John Cheng told PBS:

I hope we're never ready for a "colorblind" society. I don't like the expression because it sets the wrong terms for discussion when it comes to issues of race, equality, and social justice. To me, "blind" means not being able to see things, and wanting to be "blind" to color or race seems to mean wanting to ignore race or pretend its social and historical effects don't exist. When the larger question is how do we have an equitable society today, we have to be mindful of the historical and social complexities of race, not willfully ignore them."

Hiding behind a colorblind title only prevents these people from taking responsibly for their own sometimes accidental wrongdoing. "Are we ready for a colorblind society? Only if we are ready to deny responsibility for racism," Sumi P. Cho, a race theory expert, told PBS.

2. Doing it makes it seem like “black” is a bad word. 


A person's race isn't something that should be avoided in conversation or said out of fear because race is an important part of a person's identity. Many wear proudly their identity and celebrate it on holidays like Kwanzaa and Black History Month. Open acknowledgement of someone else’s identity isn't a bad thing.

3. It’s not a secret.


Black people know that they’re black and usually don’t have a problem with it. It’s OK to say the word black in the same voice that you would say anything else. It isn't a secret, it's simply a describing word that addresses someone's race. 

Whispering the word "black" when describing a black person is a microagression that can often times slip through the cracks, but it important to understand. Most importantly, addressing someone's race outright is not offensive, it's important.