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Black & white

Posted by Bob on January 20, 2000

In Reply to: Black & white posted by Amos on January 19, 2000

: : : : : : : : : : : : : It's clear that "the pot calling the kettle black" refers to criticism that could equally apply to the critic. But why is "black" a criticism in this phrase? I am specifically wondering if this is one of those nasty ethnic slurs that is left over from a time when such things were more commonly spoken, or if some other interpretation might apply. Any ideas or information? Please send an e-mail. Thanks.

: : : : : : : : : : : : POT CALLING THE KETTLE BLACK - The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris has more detail about this phrase than other reference books. (Note: iron pots and kettles are already black, even when new.) Judge for yourself whether the phrase has racial connotations. I guess that issue hinges on whether the color black being associated with "evil" has a connection to racial prejudice towards dark-skinned people:

: : : : : : : : : : : : "There are two slightly varying interpretations of this phrase, which is used figuratively to apply to persons. One theory is that such action is ridiculous because they are both black, presumably from standing for years on a wood-burning stove or in a fireplace. So the pot as well as the kettle is black (evil) and neither one is better than the other. This supports the explanation of the phrase as given in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: 'Said of one accusing another of faults similar to those committed by himself.'

: : : : : : : : : : : : The other theory is that the pot was black but the kettle polished copper and the pot, seeing its own blackness reflected in the shiny surface of the kettle, maintained that the kettle, not it, was actually black. In any event, it seems that the best, if slangy, retort by the kettle may have been: 'Look who's talking!'

: : : : : : : : : : : : Usually the source of the phrase is given as Cervantes' 'Don Quixote' and simply as 'The pot calls the kettle black,' but another version of Don Quixote comes out as: 'Said the pot to the kettle, get away black-face!' Henry Fielding, eighteenth century writer, reverses the roles in 'Covent Garden Tragedy': 'Dares thus the kettle to rebuke our sin!/Dares thus the kettle say the pot is black!' Even Shakespeare used the idea in 'Troilus and Cressida': 'The raven chides blackness.'"

: : : : : : : : : : : To use a technical term, I fear you're guilty of 'Churning'.>>>

: : : : : : : : : : An elaboration of that term would be appreciated.

: : : : : : : : : : And another point, can you really be posting the transcript of a conversation between a copper kettle and a pot and expecting to be considered serious.>>>

: : : : : : : : : : Could Cervantes?

: : : : : : : : : : Methinks you're still influenced by overindulgence in the the kind of festive cheer that comes from bottles marked "100% Proof" - and that's the kindest explanation I've got.>>>

: : : : : : : : : : Verily, methinks the wench indeed hath quaffed of our finest ale; how apple-cheeked and lusty she doth appear!

: : : : : : : : : I'm as black as you can get (even my brown African brothers give me the cold shoulder) so before we dredge up the words of all manner of dead white folk to justify everything please understand that it hurts at times to be visible only as a stereotype. It also doesn't help your self confidence to be the butt of any and all words and expressions featuring the word black, e.g. black balled, blackmail (male), blackguard, blackout, blackberry, blackbird (are you married to.), blacksmith and even 'the pot calling the kettle black' etc.

: : : : : : : : : I guess I probably over-reacted so have a great New Year and all that stuff.

: : : : : : : : I should like to believe that the rustle I think I hear in the echoing silence is the sound of dried leaves on the dead vine of prejudice but I have fears that it's merely Winter waiting for a Spring of luxuriant growth.

: : : : : : : Ms. Finley posted the original inquiry about whether the expression "pot calling the kettle black" was a racist expression. I initially gave my opinion that, no it isn't. Then I did some research, reconsidered and posted information from a reference book for the purposes of further discussion. I agree that most of the time the color "white" represents good and "black" represents evil. But it seems to me that the core of the discussion should be whether "black" being equated with "evil" comes from negative feelings about dark-skinned people or does it stem from "black" being associated with night, for example. Some of these expressions are ancient and might predate the black/white racial issue. This should be an interesting discussion. But please contain your anger and stop with the insults.

: : : : : :
: : : : : : Black (meaning darkness ie: the night)has always been associated with evil. "Afraid of the dark...." But why? Many, many reasons. You can't see very well or very far. Therefore, a fear of the unknown or something lurking or hiding to hurt you, you hear noises but can't see what it is. "Being left in the dark"...(to be unaware.) There are less people out, alot of stores are closed. Nothing grows much in the dark and most people are sleeping--the part of day when you are probably the most vulnerable. Night has been associated with crazy people. The word "Lunatic" derv. from the word lunar--Latin for "the moon" which comes out at night....heard enough...are you afraid yet. Amazing, but did I mention ANY ethnicity. The bible said beware of the dark man
: : : : : : (NOT COLOR OF SKIN) but ANYONE who is evil. Jesus said that he is the "light and the way".
: : : : : : The light, the color white (or yellow), the sun....all soothing and warm. "I see the light...." People PLEASE stop thinking that black used with an evil undertone means color of skin. Are you THAT stupid! Maybe YOU are the "dark" one God warned us about.

: : : : : I fear you stand on a pillar of certainty so high that even the rain which falls on our heads falls not on yours and that, as you gaze down on the clouds which obscure your view of the rest of humanity, you are confirmed in your opinion that either we all are white or should aspire so to be.

: : : : If you understood what I wrote, then I know in your last sentence you meant..." we all are "good"
: : : : or should aspire so to be..(good).--vs. evil.
: : : : Unless it was thought once again that it all meant color of skin and you may be on your own, look whose calling the kettle black.
: : : : Peace.

: : : It pains me to put it so bluntly but you display all the characteristics of a bigoted, opinionated redneck whose attitude to life is propped up with selected quotations from the good book. Have you no shame?

: : Let me FINALLY put it in a way I think your brain could understand.
: : Hot usually connotes the color red- NOT red People
: : Cold usually coonotes the color blue-Not blue people.
: : Evil/darkness usually connotes the color black-NOT black people.
: : Colors have always been used to describe feelings.
: : But, I'm sure you'll still think that I'm talking about skin color. By the way I'm neither a white
: : person nor a black person. Lets play a game. Here's what I think would happen.
: : I say: The tires on my car are black.
: : You hear: "black people are evil". He's a bigot.
: : I say: My hair is black.
: : You hear: "black people are evil". He's a bigot.
: : I say: That alley looks too dark to walk down.
: : You hear: "black people are evil". He's a bigot.
: : Sir, you are the shame. Find a woman, drink wine,
: : make love....get a life. I speak to you no more.

: I read the last contribution and add the words 'unthinking moron" to the list of adjectives in my last contribution.

Let's everybody calm down, lower the volume, and look at the language. The most important issue that seems to have been overlooked is this:this phrase is Not the pot accurately and scientifically describing the kettle as black ... it is the pot calling (that is, Accusing) the kettle of being black. You cannot hear this phrase in context without hearing the accusatory tone that it contains. The subtext is clearly "how foolish of a person to accuse another of a fault of which he himself is guilty." You would have to be unthinking indeed, or in deep denial, to ignore this. The racism might be subtle enough to fly beneath the radar (like most other white Americans, I tend to be in denial, too) ... but it's a real as it is subtle. (And since I'm on my soapbox, there seem to be a large number of people in South Carolina who defend the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the state capitol as some symbol of their heritage. Horsefeathers. It's been flying there only since 1962, origainally as a protest against integration of public facilities. More importantly, it deeply offends about 50% of the population of South Carolina, making it a monumentally rude act. These people have no manners. But denial is powerful.)