Black - With A Capital "B"

Posted by Isaiah Too | 4/11/2008 12:01:00 PM

A couple of days ago I raised what turned out to be a pretty interesting issue; specifically why the letter "B" is not capitalized in the word black when referring to Black people in the Houston Chronicle.

This post set off a lot of conversation around the
Afrosphere and elsewhere and is obviously a hot button issue. The discussion has run the gamut from those who follow the Associated Press' stylebook in reference to capitalization of ethnic groups, to those who just don't capitalize the word at anytime, for any reason. In a comment left at the post and in a posting at the American Journal of Color Arousal, Francis Holland, elaborating on his theory of Color Aroused Ideation stated:

When "Black" is not capitalized, it conforms to the idea that there is a "black race" that is fundamentally biologically different from the "white race", biologically in significant ways, ways other than skin color. When Black is capitalized, it is an assertion that "Black" is really a different political and social identity rather than a biologically different sub-genus of the human species.

Hmmm. An interesting theory and analysis, no doubt. But there were other opinions expressed as well. In reference to why he doesn't capitalize the letter "B'" in Black, the Field Negro wrote:

...because it's a color designation and not a reference to a race or nationality. ...If i am referring to an Asian, a Native American, a Caucasian, or a Negro, i will always capitalize, because that is an ethnic designation. But if i am referring to someones supposed color, well, as my man Borat says; "not so much"

Well, obviously we don't agree on that point, but that post set off one heck of a discussion in his comments section. Take a look for yourself. This is a hot button issue for sure, so I want to take the time to lay out my position on this issue in as clear a fashion as I can to hopefully advance the discussion. My opinion can be boiled down to one sentence.

--If you don't know ya name, anybody can call you anything and you'll answer.--

Reading over the various comments from bloggers, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps one of the most fundamental issues facing our community is “What ARE we??”

Are we "Blacks", "African Americans", "African-Americans", "Negroes", "ni--ers" "niggas", or what?

Should it be capitalized? Should it not be capitalized? Why was our preferred racial designation selected? Why were others rejected? WHAT and WHY? How can you expect people to call you by your name if they don’t know what your name is? How can they know your name if YOU don’t know?

Come on, People!” (Or, should I say, “Come on, people.”) It’s time. WHAT ARE WE?

And, let’s try to settle it for good this time. Changing racial identity every generation only creates the environment for oppressors to "de-niggar-rate" us every chance they get. Let's stop letting others define us as they see fit according to the "policies" they set pretty much for that exact purpose. Let’s also stop defining our own selves by monikers.

Don’t you at least want to leave that inheritance to our children?

Because, I assure you, if you were born in American with dark skin pigmentation, you’re a n---er if they can’t call you anything else. So, what do you want the world to call you?

9 comments
  1. Regina April 11, 2008 at 10:57 PM  

    Interesting post. African American is usually capitalized when using a computer because Africans and Americans are ethnic groups of people and the computer spell checker will underline it in red if you don't capitalize them. black is a color designation just like green, white and blue and thus will not be underlined by a computer spell checker for non capitalization.
    I think a lot of time was wasted on that entire argument. People waste time on things that are not that important while people are dying in Darfur & Tibet, children are molested and brainwashed on polygamous ranches in Texas, woman & children are raped and abused in Dunbar Village. We need to prioritize and focus our energy in a more productive way.
    A title, color, or label does not define me, I am simply Regina, child of God.

  2. That Girl Boo April 11, 2008 at 11:44 PM  

    I agree with you Regina, there are seriously sooo many more issues of importances but this has this weird little slap towards African Americans, it's why Mr. Obama had to give a speech on race, and why his pastor discussed race in church (my pastor discusses race in church). It's wild but we as a proud people do continue to move on and forward, even through the very racist media.
    I am an African American woman.

  3. DP April 12, 2008 at 1:19 PM  

    Regina and Boo, I hear you both but there are always going to be a million issues we're facing that need addressing and to prioritize one over the other at any given time is a matter of personal opinion.

    If we weren't sliced and diced demographically so much by the society we live in, then we could just use the term American. Unfortunately that's not the case yet. So that means there are fundamental issues of respect and equivalence that I feel are important, and the Chronicle didn't display either in the original article or via their guidelines for describing us. If there are multiple ethnic or cultural groups being discussed, then use AA instead of Black so that you avoid all confusion. They did manage to swap white for Anglo, you'll note, in the process capitalizing it and the other groups, yet black was not and AA was omitted as a choice.

    I agree with Isaiah Too in that its time to settle the issue once and for all.

  4. Isaiah Too April 12, 2008 at 5:55 PM  

    Wow. I’m flattered by how many of you good upstanding “African Americans” wasted so much of your time to tell me how much of your time I wasted asking you who you are.

    How noble of you to want to “prioritize and focus" your energies on people dying in Danfur and Tibet. (By the way, don't you care about the people dying down the street, around the corner, on the next block or in your back yard?) While you're using your “energies” solving these "important issues", do you think you might be able to do something about the fact that there are more “African Americans” in prison than there are in college?

    And I’m sure that while you're so productively engaged avoiding those "labels" to prevent them from defining you, I'm sure you're hard at work developing a plan to use your collective economic spending power to demand a stop these genocides and those other atrocities you mentioned like the children still being "molested and brainwashed." As a matter of fact, why don’t you save those children caught in those "polygamous" churches and schools that keep coming up in the news? Those are important issues, alright.

    As a matter of fact, I think you”African Americans" could be quite an effective force. That is ...if you even existed.

    This leads me to what really has me confused. Since you "African Americans" are so important that you refuse to let people give you a "title, color, or label" that defines you, why weren’t your kids allowed to take those tests so they could show them how much they’ve really learned in school?

    Surely your “African American" kids weren’t allowed to take those tests. I know this because the Houston Chronicle reported that only the "Asians", "Anglos", "Hispanics" and "blacks" had test scores. Seeing that there wasn't an "Other" category to lump you "African Americans" in, that must mean that your "African American" kids either weren't worthy of mention or they weren’t allowed to take the test at all. Man. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you "African Americans" don't get no respect. (There it is.)

    On a serious note, while I agree that there are "seriously sooo many more issues of importance" around the world, I disagree that the issue of the Houston Chronicle dishing and disrespecting our kids is of utmost importance. I’m sure our kids worked hard to do well on those test. Why let their accomplishments be reduced to a lowercase letter so that they can still be ranked dead last. Oh. I forgot. According to the Chronicle, no "African Americans" children took the test anyway so this is just my bag, right?

    Respect is earned. Without it...you've already defined yourself. Disrespected. Period.

    I also agree that Obama, his pastor, and MY pastor talk about race. They have to. Because if we don't keep the dialog going about it, I assure you, the oppressor will not. And, as long as we're not talking about the race cards...well. Like I said, if you don't know your name...you'll answer to whatever they choose to call you. Even if they don't choose to call you at all, "African Americans".

    Hey, exactly what is an "African Americans" anyway? If an African Anglo racist general born in Johannesburg gained American citizenship after he ran escaped from the South African police because they wanted him for the atrocities he committed during apartheid, what would you call him? I'm puzzled.

    Get real. All of that "save the world" crap might look good on a blog. But I suggest you "prioritize" your energies on changing the things that you can change. You can change whether or not people respect you enough to call you by your name. Whatever it is. (Oh. But, that would take some of your “energy” away, wouldn’t it?)

    Isaiah Too.

  5. Rahel May 30, 2009 at 11:07 PM  

    Interstig post. I'm doing my M.Phil English Literature thesis on Lorraine Hansberry and I was wondering whether 'black' is always written with a capital 'B' or a small 'b', whether they are called African Americans or Africa-Americans. Anyway since I'm not sure, I'm presently using the term African-Americans and 'b' is small in the word 'Black'. If there r any objections or suggestions please do let me know. I will make the corrections onto my thesis.

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  9. Francis L. Holland September 2, 2010 at 8:57 PM  

    President Obama does not have black skin; he has brown skin. If the press is using "black" to signify a skin color, then they obviously cannot tell black from brown. But it doesn't matter to them, because they think 'all blacks look the same.'

    If on the other hand they are not saying that the President is literally black but rather that he comes from an ethnicity group broadly referred to as "Black" regardless of the individual's particular color, then it is obvious that they the names of sociopolitical and cultural ethnic groups have to be capitalized.

    There just as much need to use a capital "B" in Black as there is to use a capital "J" in Jewish. To do otherwise is to assert the absurd--that everyone whom they refer to as "black" is someone who's skin is the color of a car tire.

    We are quite evidently "the Black People" precisely because, utterly regardless of our skin color, white people refer to us as "black people". That behavior says that the word "Black" is being used to indicate a sociological ethnic group and not really a color at all.

    If anyone disagrees with me, they should put their hand next to a car tire and see if the skin on their hand is truly the same color as the car tire. If the color of your hand and of the car tire are the same, then you could be referred to as a black person. If your color is different or radically different then you must be referred to as a "Black" person, because they are referring to a sociological ethnic group and not to the literal color of your skin.

    White-news style editors who insist otherwise can go flagellate themselves.