Temple's Provost Nominee Finds Racism In Cake, Star Wars, Dark Clouds

Posted: Jul 06, 2016 4:30 PM

Temple University's soon-to-be executive vice president and provost has some interesting views on the English language's racial bias. JoAnne Epps, the nominee, has served as Temple's law school dean since 2008.

The decision to nominate Epps came Tuesday, after the recent firing of Hai-Lung Dai during a financial aid crisis. Dai was removed in June. Epps, an experienced trial lawyer and teacher, received the "Spirit of Excellence" award in February from the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.

During Epps' acceptance speech, after she advocated for education reform, and after she explained that diversity is more than "not a white male," the provost-to-be listed several examples in Americans' speech of "implicit bias" against people of color:

...One of the reasons is the proliferation of suggestions that, as a person of color, I am equated with all that is wrong and bad in the world. Stay with me for a minute. Black Sheep, black mark, black cloud, here’s one of my favorites; angel’s food cake – devil’s food cake. We’ve all seen the ads for Star Wars, the Force Awakens. What color is Luke Skywalker (hero) wearing? Darth Vader? Oh, I could go on and on and on and on.

An internet search will confirm that none of the things Epps just listed have origins in racism or race.

"Black mark" originates from putting an actual black mark next to a name of a criminal in a list, according to Allen's Dictionary of English PhrasesThis required the use of black ink.

A "black sheep" comes from the fact that black wool is a recessive trait in sheep, making black sheep rare. This term is used to identify people who stand out, or are different.  Its Russian counterpart is "white crow," a phrase with a similar meaning.

A "black cloud" is a term given to doctors who are perceived to have difficult workloads. This not referring to darker-skinned people, but the dark clouds associated with bad weather, specifically rain. For Epps' benefit, here is National Geographic's explanation:

When it’s about to rain, clouds darken because the water vapor is clumping together into raindrops, leaving larger spaces between drops of water. Less light is reflected. The rain cloud appears black or gray.

Epps incorrectly identified Darth Vader as a character in The Force Awakens, but her comments on the colors of the two (Luke typically wears lighter-colored clothes, while Darth Vader is always dressed in black) did highlight the main point of the movie franchise - a struggle between light and darkness, or the absence of light. Darth Vader has also been labeled as a racist character for having a white actor but the voice of James Earl Jones, who is African American.

Epps says devil's food cake - which is chocolate - is named because of bias. However it's called devil's food because it has high fat content and is richer than a normal cake, making it "sinful." Even The Huffington Post will back this up.

Epps is now the second-highest-ranking official at Temple University.

For a more detailed answer regarding "light" and "dark" language, see this post from Grammarphobia, which explains the origins behind many "black" phrases using the Oxford English Dictionary.