Mike Kueber's Blog

January 27, 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch steps on a verbal landmine

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 8:31 pm
Tags: , ,

The internet is flooded with reports of Oscar-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch calling for more diversity in the ranks of UK actors. Unfortunately, while making his pitch, Cumberbatch stepped on a verbal landmine by using an offensive and outdated term.  His comment:

  • I think as far as colored actors go, it gets really difficult in the U.K., and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities (in the U.S.) than in the U.K. and that’s something that needs to change,” the Oscar-nominee said in an interview last week.

To correct himself, Cumberbatch issued the following apology:

  • I’m devastated to have caused offence by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive

Many, if not most, of the media reports include an explanation by Show Racism the Red Card on why Cumberbatch committed a faux pas:

  • [Cumberbatch] has also inadvertently highlighted the issue of appropriate terminology and the evolution of language. Show Racism the Red Card feel that the term ‘coloured’ is now outdated and has the potential to cause offence due to the connotations associated with the term and its historical usage. Appropriate terminology differs from country to country; for example, we know that in some countries the term ‘coloured’ is still widely used, and that in the US the term “people of colour” is quite common.

The casual observer might wonder if there is a substantive difference between “colored” and “people of color,” and actually there is a significant one. “Colored,” like the term “negro” refers to black people, and both terms are no longer acceptable to evolved people.  Instead they use the term “black.” By contrast, “people of color” refers to all non-white people (or those with non-European heritage) and remains acceptable.

Sometimes it seems that keeping up with the latest terminology is akin to knowing the current way of shaking hands.  The older you get, the less likely you are to keep up.

And, of course, someone needs to tell the NAACP that the name on their organization is offensive.

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