Is it Black or black?
Is capitalization even that big a deal?
We feel that it is. We’ve always felt that it is.
And, it didn’t take the recent renewed interest in equality, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, either.
The editors at Staten Islander News Organization have insisted that all references to White or Black people be capitalized, in every news story or editorial appearing in our paper, regardless of what the original author had written.
This is our longstanding editorial policy.
Now, we’re happy to see that again, we’re trend-setters, and some other news agencies are following our lead. Scholars of African-American studies have even gotten behind us on this one.
The Associated Press has even followed suit; the official AP style now calls for capitalizing the terms “Black” and “Indigenous.”
We’re proud to say we were among the first newspapers serving a major metropolitan area to have done so and again set the tone.
While a small, independent news service, we are nevertheless among those that present ideas that have found their way into the mainstream.
The New York Times has chosen to not capitalize. They have their own ideas as to why this should not be done.
There are opinions on all sides of the debate; it’s hardly unanimous. Here we present our own arguments as to why its most appropriate to capitalize.
Black is a reference to a culture, an ethnicity, and not a color.
When we say there “Black scholars,” do we really mean scholars who are colored Black?
No; quite clearly, we are referring to African-Americans, or Caribbean-Americans. These are specific demographic groups.
Of people. Not objects.
Black is a heritage, a culture.
Black food is food that derived from the African diaspora.
While it might be most appropriate to refer to a stove or car as black, it’s wholly unfitting for a living human being to be referenced in this way.
There’s just no respect in that.
And like White people, Black individuals come in all manner of skin tones, from paler than some White folks to deep, dark hues.
It’s not really about skin.
We feel that both Black and White should be capitalized. This is only fair.
Neither is a White person literally devoid of color; white folks range from pink to brown, in fact.
But what are we really saying when we refer to someone as White?
The U.S. Census Bureau considered people from Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
These are also distinct demographic ethnic groups, in reality. Not colors.
Both Black and White people are not of one distinct group. On the African continent, there are numerous diverse Black groups with their own history. A Caribbean-American may be Black, but have their own cultural traditions.
Likewise, White people in Europe and other lands each have their own languages, cuisine, and tradition. Still, it’s undeniable that each is White in ethnicity.
At one time Black people were called Negroes. This is a word rooted in eugenics and “race theory,” a discredited science detailing how the “races” differ.
“Colored” and “Coloreds” were also once acceptable. Not colored people. Just coloreds. Do you see the inherent depersonalization there?
This was confusing, really, as White people seem to have blue, green, hazel, brown, and black eyes, and hair ranging from blonde to brown to red.
Perhaps a more accurate descriptor would have been “tinted-skinned people.” In any case, the term was rooted in racist ideology.
During segregation times, in the South, the water fountains, public transportation waiting rooms, and much else was divided, with the section for African-Americans labelled “colored.”
In the 1960s, the Black Panther Party, and other Black civil rights groups, embraced the term “Black.”
This was also once used pejoratively, but these revolutionaries decided to own the term and make it their own.
Black was no longer a work connoting shame, bur rather pride.
Dark skin was positive. Natural African hairstyles was praised.
Although Black peoples have suffered through kidnapping from Africa, slavery, and segregation, a legacy shaped in no small part by colonialism, in the 1960s African Americans began to appreciate their own collective story as valuable, something to cherish.
Today, we say Black, African American, and People of Color.
Yes; we capitalize the phrase “People of Color” as well. Are we going overboard? No; not really.
It’s just more dignifying, more respectful. Again, we;’re referring to a group of humans, and human groups deserve to be referenced as other proper nouns are.
It’s way of acknowledging Black people and their continuing struggle, each and every time the phrase is used.
That they’re people. And not objects or beasts of burden, ideas that were once commonly held, as much as we would all like to forget this.
The American Psychological Association style guide already suggested that we capitalize:
“Racial and ethnic groups are designated by proper nouns and are capitalized. Therefore, use ‘Black’ and ‘White’ instead of ‘black’ and ‘white.’”
The big question, semantically, we editors at Staten Islander have grappled with is this: How shall we address “Brown” people?
While some people may identify as Black, others White, still others as Black and White, few people identify as Brown.
But there are some.
People from India often refer to themselves as Brown, as do many people of Hispanic heritage.
And so, Brown shall also always be capitalized in our newspaper.
It’s just fairer that way, and is logically consistent and sensible.
It’s not our place to decide which group deserves to be recognized as Worthy of its own capitalization. If we’re doing it for one group, we’re going to follow through and do it for all.
In the end, Black, Brown, and White are just substitutions for ethnic identifiers.
It’s not a visual identifier, either; you may call someone Black who isn’t; you may call someone White who isn’t.
The overlap is just too great to ever really know for sure, especially as racism has faded somewhat, and racial intermarriage has brought to the world many kids who are a rainbow of colors, and do not identify as one color, but many.
These are just terms we made up along the way to make things easier to refer to.
They aren’t hard-and-fast scientific definitions, as they were once claimed to be.
They’re just social and linguistic conventions. Nothing more.
Race and color are just constructs, ways people in the past categorized experience into discrete schema to make life more easily understood. Over time, it’s inevitable that schema are updated, and sometimes changed completely.