I had a very interesting dream last night.
There was an awards show going on. A black man came out on the stage and he grabbed a microphone from the stand. In the very far foreground, there were two rows of announcers talking during the show. Most of them were black and this one black woman identified the man on stage as “blackish.” The guy looked in her direction, clearly stunned. There was an uncomfortable silence, something like a loud gasp, after she’d said that word. I guess I should note that most of the people in the audience were black, as well. Then one lady in the top row said “Did you just say blackish?” And another one in the same row said, “You did NOT just say the word blackish.” Meanwhile, the girl who’d said the word was really uncomfortable and started stammering an apology. She was just as stunned by what she’d said as everybody else was. Then one brave soul decided to break the awkward, uncomfortable silence everybody was feeling by getting up from her seat, walking over to the girl who’d said the word, then playfully pulling her hair as she pretended to be mad and raging at her. The girl, meanwhile, was laughing, but it was obvious she was sorry for the mistake. Then everybody settled back in their seats and the show continued and I woke up.
When I woke up from that dream, I thought, Blackish? What the—
I know, dreams are weird. But it’s doubly weird that happened in my dream. I don't even watch awards shows, as it is.
I have to admit that, as a writer, I find the word “blackish” off-putting. I mean, something or someone is either black or white. There is no in-between. To say that someone or something is “blackish” is like saying that they are not entirely black. They are somewhat black. Myself, if I came across that word in a book I’m reading, I would wonder that if the person or thing, like a cat, is “blackish,” then what’s the other color? In the example of a cat, it would make sense to say that the cat is “blackish and grayish” to indicate the combination of the two colors of the cat’s fur. That’s a better picture of what the cat could look like. Without the supplemental color, however, saying it’s “blackish” would leave me without a clear picture of the cat.
After I got the kids off to school this morning, and I was back at the desk, I decided to Google the word “blackish” to see what came up. The word just bugged me as a standalone word. I was seeing it as an adjective. However, I learned there is a sitcom called Black-ish, so maybe with the awards ceremony in my dream, maybe that was an actor for the show. (I am HORRIBLE at recognizing people – though I can totally recognize Stan Lee in any Marvel film! Hah!) I have not seen the show, so I’m not very clear on that. There is also a game developing company in Australia called Blackish Games. And Dictionary.com said it can be used to describe an African American person (though the people in my dream would disagree).
I have no qualms about adding “-ish” to words. Whovians got a good laugh with one episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor tells his companion, Clara, “Same place…ish.” To which Clara replies, “Ish? Don’t give me an ish.” And the Doctor says, “These readings are very … um … ishy.”
I even give people an “ish.” Like, “Dinner will be ready at 8ish.” Or “I’ll see you at 3ish.” Sometimes, I’ll say “Some, somewhat” instead, but yes, I do say “ish” a lot if I’m not exactly sure about a time or place. Or I’ll say, “Thereabouts.”
But to use “ish” when describing someone, things can get a little muddled. Saying something like “He had newish clothes” is not all that bad, but calling a cat “blackish” seems a little incomplete.
And as a final thought on that word, perhaps “blackish” could describe something that is exclusively African American. Such as in “He likes to read books written by Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and other blackish books.” I could see how that would work when the word is used in such a way, because people know Angelou was black and Morrison is black.
But I think to describe a person as “blackish” and not add much else is a bit of a no-no.