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"Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms"

July 6, 2005

At work the other day I saw a black person, and, not knowing who he is or anything about him, I queried one of my co-workers, Bjarne, about him using the adjective "black" to describe him, whereupon he corrected it to "African". I found that a little puzzling, but today I discovered that he thinks it's a racist remark. He told me I should rather use terms like "dark-skinned" or "African" because of the negative connotations that the word "black" apparently carries. Now, "dark-skinned" might be okay, but unfortunately it is a euphemism synonymous with "black" in addition to being a disyllable ("black", by contrast, is a monosyllable). Calling him "African" when I don't know his place of origin is just ignorant. I might have been evil and called him a "nigger", and while there is nothing wrong with the word in itself, I am sensible enough to avoid it. Or, if I wanted to be painstakingly correct, I could call him a negroid. But then I'd have to refer to myself as a caucasian, and it's much simpler to refer to myself as a white person.

Of course, I might have circumvented the whole issue by referring to him by some other characteristic, but as I know nothing about him except that his body contains more eumelanin than mine, I found it very convenient to call him "black". Bjarne told me that the speaker of a word doesn't define the word's connotations and while that is undoubtedly true, it's unfair that the negative connotations of a word imposed by someone else should interfere with my perfectly legitimate use of that word. It's as ridiculous to take offense at the word "black" as it is to take offense at, say, "female" or "Asian" or "football player". (Assuming, of course, that one or more of these hold true for the person in question. I certainly would take offense if someone referred to me as a female Asian football player, and not because they called me female and Asian.)

I finished Gold by Asimov, a collection of short stories plus two non-fiction parts (the non-fiction parts, which span a little less than one third of the book, deal with concepts in science fiction and on writing science fiction, both of which I found enlightening). I immensely enjoyed Hallucination, The Instability, and Alexander the God.

I'm reading Asimov like there is no tomorrow, and I have to say, his non-fiction is better than his fiction. Not much better, just better. He has the incredible ability of explaining things in such a way that any intelligent person is able to understand, and I happen to love that kind of writing. A silly thought, maybe, but I feel that my opinions on science fiction shouldn't carry much weight, since I haven't read science fiction from other authors than Asimov (if you don't consider Nightfall, which was co-written with Robert Silverberg). In particular, I still haven't read anything by Iain M. Banks, Vernor Vinge, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, and Jules Verne. But I guess having picked up the names, at least, is a start. Urge... to... read... rising!

I want to cull my two essays on Bases and Graphs & Functions, but I'll leave them be until the rate of new pages created is equal to or greater than the rate of old pages culled. We'll see.

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