A Debate Over Identity and Race Asks, Are African-Americans ‘Black’ or ‘black’? The push to capitalize black to refer to African-Americans is far more than a typographical change. By John Eligon June 26, 2020 It’s the difference between black and Black. A longtime push by African-American scholars and writers to capitalize the word black in the context of race has gained widespread acceptance in recent weeks and unleashed a deep debate over identity, race and power. Hundreds of news organizations over the past month have changed their style to Black in reference to the race of people, including The Associated Press, long considered an influential arbiter of journalism style. Far more than a typographical change, the move is part of a generations-old struggle over how best to refer to those who trace their ancestry to Africa. The capitalization of black, which has been pushed for years, strikes at deeper questions over the treatment of people of African descent, who were stripped of their identities and enslaved in centuries past, and whose struggles to become fully accepted as part of the American experience continue to this day. “Blackness fundamentally shapes any core part of any black person’s life in the U.S. context, and really around the world,” said Brittney Cooper, an associate professor at Rutgers University whose latest book, “Eloquent Rage,” explores black feminism. “In the choice to capitalize, we are paying homage to a history with a very particular kind of political engagement.” The move toward Black is not embraced by all African-Americans, and two of the country’s major news outlets, The New York Times and The Washington Post, are still wrestling over whether to make the change. “Black is a color,” said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the longtime civil rights leader who popularized the term “African-American” in an effort to highlight the cultural heritage of those with ancestral ties to Africa. “We built the country through the African slave trade. African-American acknowledges that. Any term that emphasizes the color and not the heritage separates us from our heritage.” Did you know you can share 10 gift articles a month, even with nonsubscribers? Share this article. There are also concerns that turning black into a proper noun lumps people of the African diaspora into a monolithic group and erases the diversity of their experiences. Some have said it bestows credibility upon a social construct created to oppress black people. Perhaps the most notable concern is what to do about white and brown as racial identifiers. So far, most news organizations have declined to capitalize white, generally arguing that it is an identifier of skin color, not shared experience, and that white supremacist groups have adopted that convention. But some scholars say that to write “Black” but not “White” is to give white people a pass on seeing themselves as a race and recognizing all the privileges they get from it. “Whiteness is not incidental,” the sociologist Eve Ewing wrote on Twitter in arguing to capitalize white as well. She added: “Whiteness is a thing. Whiteness is endowed with social meaning that allows people to move through the world in a way that people who are not white are not able to do.” At a recent online meeting of Race/Related, a cross-desk team devoted to race coverage at The Times, a discussion of whether to capitalize black or not made clear that there is not universal agreement, even among African-Americans on the staff. “It has been the subject of a lively and surprising debate,” said Dean Baquet, the Times’s executive editor, who has indicated that he will announce a decision on the issue soon. The debate over racial vocabulary is unfolding amid growing recognition across society of the need to tackle racism after several high-profile police killings of black people incited mass protests nationwide. The acceptable terms in America for identifying black people have evolved over generations, from colored to Negro to black and African-American. Also commonly used is “people of color,” an umbrella term used to include many ethnic minorities. In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, which has unleashed a national conversation on questions of race and racism, many say the country is long overdue to standardize the use of the uppercase B in black, which has been commonly used at black media outlets for a long time. The New York Amsterdam News, for instance, describes itself as “the oldest Black newspaper in the country that offers the ‘New Black View’ within local, national and international news for the Black community.” The debate among black people in America over how they should be described has often centered on identity as a political statement. In her 1904 essay “Do We Need Another Name?” Fannie Barrier Williams, an educator and activist, described a lively discussion unfolding at the time among African-American scholars over whether to shed the label Negro in favor of terms like colored or Afro-American. Colored, she wrote, was a “name that is suggestive of progress toward respectful recognition.” At the heart of the discussion, she wrote, was whether African-Americans needed a new label divorced from Negro and its connections to slavery, something of a fresh start that indicated their new place in society as free people. Some, like W.E.B. Du Bois, favored keeping the term Negro and transforming it into something positive — an affirmation of their perseverance as a people and their freedom. “There are so many Negroes who are not Negroes, so many colored people who are not colored, and so many Afro-Americans who are not Africans that it is simply impossible even to coin a term that will precisely designate and connote all the people who are now included under any one of the terms mentioned,” Barrier Williams wrote. Negro became the predominant identifier of people of African descent for much of the first half of the 20th century, and even then descendants of enslaved people from Africa waged a yearslong campaign before getting most of society, including The Times, to capitalize it. With the rise of the Black Power movement in the mid-1960s, the word black, once seen as an insult for many African-Americans, started winning embrace. In just a few years, it became the predominant descriptor of black people as Negro became obsolete. Mr. Jackson’s campaign brought African-American into popular use in the late 1980s, and it is now often used interchangeably with black. For proponents of capitalizing black, there are grammatical reasons — it is a proper noun, referring to a specific group of people with a shared political identity, shaped by colonialism and slavery. But some see it as a moral issue as well. It confers a sense of power and respect to black people, who have often been relegated to the lowest rungs of society through racist systems, black scholars say. “Race as a concept is not real in the biological sense, but it’s very real for our own identities,” said Whitney Pirtle, an assistant professor of sociology specializing in critical race theory at the University of California, Merced. “I think that capitalizing B both sort of puts respect to those identities, but also alludes to the humanities.” Vilna Bashi Treitler, a professor of black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said that racial categories were fabricated, created to denigrate people considered to be nonwhite. Black and white are adjectives, not proper nouns to be capitalized, she said, calling a term like “African descendant” a more appropriate way to characterize black people. “It’s a placeholder for describing the group of people who are perpetually reinserted into the bottom of the racial hierarchy,” Dr. Bashi Treitler, the author of the book “The Ethnic Project,” said of the term black. “I think we can be more revolutionary than to embrace the oppressor’s term for us.” In her first two books, Crystal M. Fleming, a sociologist and author, lowercased black in part because of academic differences between race and ethnicity. But the more she researched, the more those distinctions became blurred in her mind. She came to see race as a concept that could signify a politically and culturally meaningful identity. Now Dr. Fleming, a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the author of “How to be Less Stupid About Race,” is writing a book for young people about fighting racism. She has decided to use Black. Part of the reason, she said, was her desire to honor black experiences and speak with moral clarity about antiracism. Another reason was more basic, born in the urgency of the current moment. “Frankly,” she said, “because I want to. That’s also something that I think we need to see more of in every field — black people doing what we want to do.” Write an original, informal student response to the above essay.
I just read this interesting article about whether to capitalize the "B" in Black when referring to African-Americans, and I thought it was worth sharing. The article discusses how the move to capitalize the term Black in this context has gained widespread acceptance in recent weeks, sparking a deep debate over identity, race, and power. It's more than just a typographical change; it's about acknowledging the history and political engagement of African-Americans.
There isn't a unanimous agreement on this issue, though. Some argue that using the capitalized Black may lump people of African descent into a monolithic group and erase the diversity of their experiences. Others say it bestows credibility upon a social construct created to oppress black people.
Another concern raised in the article is about capitalizing white and brown as racial identifiers. Some scholars argue that to write "Black" but not "White" is to give white people a pass on seeing themselves as a race and recognizing the privileges they get from it.
The debate over racial vocabulary is happening against the backdrop of a growing recognition of the need to tackle racism after several high-profile police killings of black people, which led to mass protests nationwide.
I think this article raises thought-provoking questions about identity, race, and power. It's interesting to see how language and its usage can influence our perception and treatment of different groups of people. What are your thoughts on capitalizing the "B" in Black and other racial identifiers? Do you think it makes a difference, or is it just a matter of semantics?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
Best, [Your Name]
Try again, but this time make an original point that builds on or responds to something in the article but provides further insight or raises an important question that wasn't mentioned.
I just read this thought-provoking article about the debate over capitalizing the "B" in Black when referring to African-Americans. It highlights how this typographical change has sparked conversations around identity, race, and power. While the article discusses the various perspectives on this issue, it got me thinking about something that wasn't directly mentioned: the role of language in shaping our understanding of race and identity.
In the context of this debate, one thing that struck me is the impact of language on our collective perception of racial groups. Capitalizing the "B" in Black could signify a recognition of the unique experiences and history of African-Americans, which might contribute to a more profound understanding of the community's struggles and achievements. On the other hand, some argue that this could homogenize the diverse experiences within the African diaspora.
This brings up an important question: how can we effectively use language to emphasize the distinctiveness of racial and ethnic groups while also acknowledging the vast diversity within these groups? One possible solution could be to encourage more conversations about the complexities of race and ethnicity, and how they intersect with other aspects of a person's identity, such as nationality, culture, and socioeconomic background.
Additionally, it's worth considering how language could be adapted to better reflect the unique experiences of other racial and ethnic groups. For example, the debate over capitalizing white and brown as racial identifiers raises the question of whether this change could encourage a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding race and privilege.
Overall, the article serves as a reminder of the power of language in shaping our understanding of race, identity, and history. It's essential to engage in these conversations and explore how our language choices might impact the way we perceive and interact with different racial and ethnic groups.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think language plays a significant role in shaping our understanding of race and identity? And if so, how can we ensure that our language choices reflect the complexities of racial and ethnic experiences?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
Best, [Your Name]
Now write five different possible original responses to the article, each of which advances the conversation beyond what is in the article. See these sample responses phrases for reference: ere are all of the common phrases discussed in Chapter 5: Responding to an Argument. Each heading links to the relevant section of the text. Call for clarification X should specify whether they mean _____________ or _____________. X should explain what they mean by _____________. X should elaborate on the concept of _____________. Call for support and research Further research on _____________ could show us _____________. A study of _____________ might show whether _____________. Is it really the case that _____________? We need more information about _____________. An investigation of _____________ could help us determine the role of _____________ in _____________. Suggest a limit to the claim We should recognize that this pattern is limited to cases where _____________. The argument holds true in situations where _____________. It is important to note that this claim only applies to _____________. _____________ is a notable exception because _____________. We should note that this claim is certainly not true of _____________. Point to further implications The idea that _____________ could apply to _____________ as well. Beyond _____________, X’s argument has implications for _____________. This argument shows how important it is that we take action on _____________. If we accept the idea that _____________, as we should, then the time has come to _____________. Given X’s points, shouldn’t we consider _____________? Introduce alternative or additional reasons Better evidence for _____________ lies in _____________. Another reason why _____________ is that _____________. The fact that _____________ provides further support for X’s claim. My own experience has also shown that _____________ , which leads me to agree with X. I have seen firsthand how _____________. In addition to the evidence X gives, it is also worth considering that _____________. Underscore the importance of an argument X’s claim is important because _____________. This is especially concerning because _____________. We should take note of this since _____________. Suggest ways to spread the word We could help spread awareness of _____________ by _____________. The idea that _____________ should be taught in _____________ classes. We should all talk to those we know about _____________. Introduce alternate claims Instead of _____________, I would argue that _____________. A more accurate claim would be _____________. In actuality, _____________. The idea that _____________ better accounts for the evidence. We can find a better explanation of _____________ in _____________. As we have seen, it is not true that _____________. Rather, _____________. Reframe the issue Instead of focusing on _____________, we should look at the question in the light of _____________. A better way to frame the issue of _____________ would be in terms of _____________. To better understand _____________, we should first ask ourselves _____________.
Call for support and research: Further research on the psychological impact of capitalizing racial identifiers could provide valuable insights into how this change might affect the self-perception and collective identity of different racial groups. A study exploring the history of capitalizing racial terms might also show how the treatment of racial and ethnic groups has evolved over time and the role language has played in shaping our understanding of race and identity.
Suggest a limit to the claim: While the debate over capitalizing the "B" in Black is gaining momentum, it is important to note that this discussion is primarily centered on the experiences of African-Americans. The impact of this change on other racial and ethnic groups should also be considered, and the conversation should be expanded to include a broader range of perspectives and experiences.
Point to further implications: The debate over capitalizing the "B" in Black raises important questions about the language we use to describe other racial and ethnic groups. If we consider capitalizing Black as a way to recognize the unique history and experiences of African-Americans, it might be worth examining how other racial and ethnic identifiers could be modified or adapted to better represent the diverse experiences of these communities.
Introduce alternative or additional reasons: In addition to the arguments presented in the article, it is also worth considering the role of social media in amplifying the debate over capitalizing the "B" in Black. As social media platforms have become increasingly influential in shaping public discourse, the discussions taking place online could play a significant role in driving the adoption of new language conventions.
Reframe the issue: Instead of focusing solely on whether to capitalize the "B" in Black, we should also examine the broader context of language and its impact on our perception of race and identity. By addressing the root causes of systemic racism and discrimination, we can work towards fostering a more inclusive and equitable society that recognizes and celebrates the diverse experiences of all racial and ethnic groups.
Thanks. Explain more and give examples for 3 and 4 above
- Point to further implications:
The debate over capitalizing the "B" in Black might lead us to reconsider the language we use when discussing other racial and ethnic groups. For example, the term "Asian-American" encompasses a vast array of diverse ethnicities, cultures, and histories. To better recognize and respect the unique experiences of each community within the Asian-American population, we could consider adopting more specific identifiers, such as "Chinese-American" or "Indian-American," when appropriate. Similarly, capitalizing the "I" in Indigenous could be another way to acknowledge the diverse histories and cultures of Indigenous communities around the world. By examining how language shapes our understanding of race and ethnicity, we can work towards fostering more inclusive and nuanced discussions that respect and celebrate the distinct experiences of each community.
- Introduce alternative or additional reasons:
Social media has played a significant role in shaping public discourse, and its influence on the debate over capitalizing the "B" in Black is no exception. As more people engage in conversations about race and identity on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, these discussions can reach a wider audience and generate a greater impact. For example, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter gained traction on social media and subsequently became a powerful force driving awareness and activism around racial injustice.
In the context of the capitalization debate, social media users might share articles, personal experiences, or opinions on the topic, which can influence how others perceive the issue. Influential figures, such as celebrities or activists, might also publicly support capitalizing the "B" in Black, further legitimizing the movement and encouraging others to adopt the change. As these online conversations gain momentum, they can create a ripple effect, leading to more widespread adoption of new language conventions and ultimately influencing the way society discusses and understands race and identity.