Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Color line

I'm returning this week to my usual programming (that is, posting entries from Phil Herbst's The Color of Words: An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Ethic Bias in the United States). And here's a term I don't think I hear very much anymore, even though it's familiar to me in a deep way. Perhaps the reason we don't hear this term as much anymore is that the "color line" has blurred over the years? What do you think?

color line.
From the nineteenth century, an American metaphor for the social and political distinctions and distance be­tween black people (and sometimes other nonwhite groups) and white people. This symbolic line is most clearly demarcated in racist societies. Black sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois de­clared that "the problem of the twenti­eth century is . . . the color-line" (The Souls of Black Folk, 1961,23).

The color line is spoken of as being "drawn" (making distinctions based on color), "crossed" (behaving without re­gard to the distinctions), or "broken" (bringing down the barrier). For ex­ample, in April 1947 the black Ameri­can baseball player Jackie Robinson played his first regular-season major-­league baseball game, thereby "break­ing the color line" in organized baseball. A notable book written in the early twen­tieth century about the color line was Ray Stannard Baker's Following the Color Line (1908).

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