That Word Black
by Langston Hughes

"This evening," said Simple, "I feel like talking about the word black."

"Nobody's stopping you, so go ahead. But what you really ought to have is a soap-box out on the corner of 126th and Lenox where the rest of the orators hang out."

"They expresses some good ideas on that corner," said Simple, "but for my ideas I do not need a crowd. Now as I were saying, the word black, white folks have done used that word to mean something bad so often until now when the N.A.A.C.P. asks for civil rights for the black man, they think they must be bad. Looking back into history, I reckon it all started with a black cat meaning bad luck. Don't let one cross your path!

"Next, somebody got up a blacklist on which you get if you don't vote right. Then when lodges come into being, the folks they didn't want in them got blackballed. If you kept a skeleton in your closet, you might get blackmailed. And everything bad was black. When it came down to the unlucky ball on the pool table, the eight-rock, they made it the black ball. So no wonder there ain't no equal rights for the black man."

"All you say is true about the odium attached to the word black," I said, "You've even forgotten a few. For example, during the war if you bought something under the table, illegally, they say you were trading on the black market. In Chicago, if you're a gangster, the Black Hand Society may take you for a ride. And certainly if you don't behave yourself, your family will say you're a black sheep. Then, if your mama burns a black candle to change family luck, they call it black magic."

"My mama never did believe in voodoo, so she did not burn no black candles," said Simple.

"If she had, that would have been a black mark against her."

"Stop talking about my mama. What I want to know is, where do you white folks get off calling everything bad black? If it is a dark night, they say it's black as hell. If you are mean and evil, they say you got a black heart. I would like to change all that around and say that the people who Jim Crow me have got a white heart. people who sell dope to children have got a white mark against them. And the white gamblers who were behind the basketball fix are the white sheep of the sports world. God knows there was few, if any, Negroes selling stuff on the black market during the war, so why didn't they call it the white market? No, they got to take me and my color and turn it into everything bad. According to white folks, black is bad.

"Wait till my day comes! In my language, bad will be white. Blackmail will be a white mail. Black cats will be good luck, and white cats will be bad. If a white cat crosses your path, look out! I will take the black ball for the cue ball and let the white ball be the unlucky eight-rock. And on my blacklist––will be a white list then ––I will put everybody who ever Jim Crowed me from Rankin to Hitler, Talmadge to Malan, South Carolina to South Africa.

"I am black. When I look in the mirror, I see myself, daddy-o, but I am not ashamed. God made me. he also made F.D., dark as he is. He did not make us no badder than the rest of the folks. The earth is black and all kinds of good things comes out of the earth. Everything that grows comes out of the earth. Trees and flowers and fruit and sweet potatoes and corn and all that keeps mens alive comes right up out of the earth––good old black earth. Coal is black and it warms your house and cooks yo ur food. The night is black, which has the moon, and a million stars, and is beautiful. Sleep is black, which gives you rest, so you wake up feeling good. I am black. I feel very good this evening.

"What is wrong with black?" Directory