Maybe this isn’t a neologism, but it’s a usage that seems to have become quite frequent in recent discussions about race. I encountered it repeatedly the last week as I was reading Ibram X. Kendi’s bestseller How to be an Antiracist. (If I’m to engage in the discussions of the day, I have to know the literature, and this is one of the two most important books.)
The term is “Black body”—not the Planckian object of physics, but a term that refers to black people as a group. (I haven’t seen “white body” used nearly so often.) Here’s one example from Kendi, but there are hundreds in his book and other in antiracist literature. This one’s a quote from a Guardian article on the book, as I don’t have Kendi’s book here):
“Racist ideas piled up before me like trash at a landfill. . . Tens of thousands of pages of Black people being trashed as natural or nurtured beasts, devils, animals, rapists, slaves. . . More than five hundred years of toxic ideas on the Black body.”
What he means, of course, is “toxic ideas about black people.” One can see this usage throughout antiracist literature, always referring to “black people”, and I’m baffled. For changing “Black people” to “Black body” seems to me a dehumanization of people, reducing them to a protoplasmic vessel of a certain hue. And, as far as I can see, that’s not the intent of using it this way, for of course Kendi is an African-American who is not trying to dehumanize black people. And I don’t think he’s using the term to refer to how racists see African-Americans.
Given that the term “slave” has now passed out of usage in this literature, becoming “enslaved people” for obvious and laudable reasons (a slave is a person, and we should remember that), why should “black people” become “black bodies”? It’s the reverse kind of change.
I really have no idea why this seemingly dehumanizing usage, which always bothers me, is the term of choice these days. Can anyone explain?