Sunday, June 21, 2020

"Black" is the new "black"

I have been noticing for some time now the gradual trend towards capitalizing the word Black. Many newspaper and internet articles have already made the switch from "black" to "Black", and now the influential Asscociated Press Stylebook has officially made the change.
The point, apparently, is that "black" is just a colour, while "Black" is a race, ethnicity, culture or community.
And this seems to be a big deal for many Black people. For example, a representative from the Brooking Institution commented that, "Not having a capital letter has felt disrespectful". This recalls a campaign from way back in the 1920s to capitalize the "N" in "Negro" on the grounds that a small "n" was a sign of disrespect and racism. "Negro" itself is now considered pejorative, as is "coloured" (but not "of colour"), as the Zeitgeist changes over time, and now the debate revolves around "blakc" and "Black".
"African-American" has always been capitalized, but mainly because both "Africa" and "America" are considered proper nouns under the grammatical rules of the English language, and therefore should be capitalized. So, it's arguable less about respect than it is about grammar. Is "Black American" the same? Well, not really, but I guess the argument is that, while a "black American" is just an American who happens to have black skin, a "Black American" is a member of a specific cultural group. Which presupposes that there is a single, readily-identifiable Black American cultural group that all Americans with black skin identify with, which is probably a bit of a stretch.
It does also seem to me to be a very American thing, somehow. I may be wrong but it's difficult for me to believe that people in Africa would care whether they are described as "black" or "Black". And quite where it leaves brown people, I'm not sure (Latinos already have their capital, and "Indigenous" has already gone through the capitalization metamorphosis recently). But, hey, if it does anything to break down barriers during this rather fraught time in race relations, I say go for it!
Interestingly, Associated Press are apparently still debating whether "white" should be capitalized too, which, under the same logic, it probably should, although I would think this will be a much more diffficult political decision for AP. Indeed, I imagine that white supremacist organizations are already lobbying for it as we speak.

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