George Graham

Words Are Wind — Or Are They?

What words offend you? We all know several that we can cite right off the bat, beginning with “the N word,” right?

How about similar words like mulatto (malatta), redibo or redman, brown skin girl, cool-skin, and so on?

I bet many gorgeous young ladies of my acquaintance would be insulted if they were described as “quadroon” or “octaroon” like some slave on an auction block.

I don’t mind being called a brown man. It’s an indisputably accurate description. My skin is a pale brown (at least the parts exposed to the sun) and I am (proudly) a man.

But I was taken aback by a reader’s description of herself in responding to my most recent blog. She called herself a “high-yellow black woman.” I don’t know why that offended me but it made my skin crawl. I have never seen anyone who wasn’t smitten with jaundice that I would describe as yellow.

At Sunday school we sang of Jesus loving the little children, “red and yellow, black and white.” I looked around at my Chinese friends and none of them seemed remotely “yellow.” They were a delicate shade of ivory that seemed very close to the so-called “white” children. The children, black and white,  were shades of brown to me, some darker than others, true, but brown nonetheless. A truly black person is extremely rare. So is a truly white person (outside of a leper colony). Many people who call themselves white look pink to me. Others I would describe as beige.

To the reader who took the trouble to respond to my blog, I say this:

“You are not a high-yellow black woman, you are a woman who happens to be a few shades darker than some of your friends. If someone has put that baggage on your back, shake it off. If ignorant people have put you down or blocked your progress because they perceive you to be of a different skin shade, I say pity their ignorance. As Maya Angelou said, “like the dust” we rise. And if our confidence offends some ignorant people, show your beautiful teeth in a sunny smile and say, ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ “

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for