I read a sentence in my history book which was:

Shaped by the language of race even names were often coloured with blackness.

I don't think "blackness" here has been used in any literal sense but I'm unable to explain what it means to my student-friend. Could it mean that the "names" had something associated with blackness in them? Or is it something else? Or does it require more context to arrive at any conclusion?

  • 3
    What is this from? It sounds like it's from a book on the history of race and racism, possibly specifically about the United States? If that is true, then "blackness" refers to both skin color and African-American culture. More context, please.
    – Andrew
    May 22, 2019 at 15:33
  • No, it is an excerpt from my history book relating to colonial history in India.
    – Kelvin
    May 22, 2019 at 16:42
  • Could you please post as much of the section that seems relevant? It seems as if the term "blackness" should have been previously defined.
    – Andrew
    May 22, 2019 at 19:56

1 Answer 1


This is from a description of an illustration of Chitpore Bazaar. It also mentions the use of phrases such as “White Calcutta” and “Black Pavilion”.

So in a sense the use of “blackness” is literal. Your book is saying that at that time in India, the racial divide between native Indians and the British was so stark it could even be found in the way things were named.

To explain it to your friend, you might consider contrasting it with situations where racial differences are communicated more subtly, perhaps through euphemism. Phrases common today, such as “African American” might be an example. So while that phrase could in theory apply to, say, Charlize Theron, in fact it doesn’t really because in practice it is a euphemism for what used to be referred to as “black” or maybe “negro”. So there is no “blackness” coloring the phrase “African American”, whereas there clearly is with “black” and “negro”.

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