Thursday, October 25, 2007

Join the Campaign to Capitalize the "B"

I am a writer, so words mean a lot to me. I use my words to tell stories, to make people think and to express my ideas. We all know, despite the childhood refrain, that words have the power to wound and likewise they can heal (think Hallmark). And for that very reason, I have a problem with the way a certain letter is treated.

It's the letter B. Why is the letter B lower cased when describing Black people? I know black is a color but when I'm talking about my people, Black is not referring to the color of our skin (duh, Black people range in actual color from the lightest light to almost midnight black) it is the name of our culture. Black culture. A unique culture that is an amalgam of African, European, and Native American influences.

And whether you agree or not on what constitutes a Black American, the fact of the matter is that a lot of us colored folk identify as Black Americans, so that classification should be given all of the respect given other ethnic/cultural identifiers.

Let me make my point: If you see a sentence that says: "The school has an equal number of Asian, Hispanic and black students." How can you not feel like black is less than when it doesn't even merit a capital letter?

And I'm going to say further, how as a people, are we supposed to feel a pride in our culture when we can't even get a capital letter recognized as grammatically correct? In all of my writing, I always capitalize the letter b in Black. Many times it is struck down by a racist copy chief (just kidding, they're not intentionally racist, just probably afraid to buck the system)but I'll go to the mat to fight the change. In my books, where I have a little bit more control I beg for the change. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. But as a writer, a woman who uses words as her weapons for change, I never give up the fight.

And neither should you.

In the words of Bill Cosby, Come on People. If we all start capitalizing the b in Black when referring to Black people, then eventually the change will come. I mean, if Bling can make it into Webster's Dictionary, then we can capitalize the B.

Are you with me? Start with the man in the mirror and make that change (thank you Michael Jackson). You start the campaign, tell your friends. Tell your co-workers. Kids, tell your teachers. Black people deserve a capital B. We can start this revolution right now. And you don't have to be Black to believe in the the capital B. This is an issue that effects everyone who will ever put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard and write. This means you.



Juanita said...

Hi Ms. Lori,
I never really thought about the capitalization of "B". I always do it, but I always assume people are being lazy when they don't, but now I see your point.

And I was LOL regarding the vice-president...does this mean he has some BLACK in him? Hah!
Keep up the good work!

Eileen Flanagan said...

OK, you've sold me, but I have a question. When I am teaching and this comes up, I have usually given students the choice to capitalize or not, but then tell them to be consistent between different groups. (You know that editing thing about consistency.) So does this mean we should capitalize W for white? I'm not trying to be flip or dilute your issue, just figure out how to apply it. I confess capitalizing B makes more sense to me, for the reasons you've stated, especially if you don't like the term African-American (which I know you don't). There is definitely a Black culture that should be celebrated and respected. At the same time, whites (Whites?) have all this baggage about identifying ourselves by our race because we don't want to see the ways that it has shaped us. (See Learning to Be White by Thandenka.) It's much easier to identify as Irish-American, or whatever, if we know our ethnic roots. So I'm just curious, would capitalizing W force whites to look at their race, or just seem like another example of white folks not wanting Black folks to have something they don't?

Me said...


Generally, I do also capitalize White when referring to White Americans. However, I do not feel the same zeal to get others to capitalize the W because I'm not sure how White people feel about the issue. But from lexi-cultural standpoint, I believe both Black Americans and White Americans should be capped. And as such, I Believe that White American culture is a unique culture in and of itself.

So thank you for bringing it up.

Juanita: Thanks!

Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks, Lori. Makes sense to me.

Cloudscome said...

I always use capital B for Black Americans. I had the same question about white Americans. I am inconsistant about it because on the one hand I want to treat all ethnicities the same, but on the other hand it feels overdone to capitalize w in white.

I don't think most white people self-identify as white. (I mean they don't think about it.) They are either Irish/Italian/whatever, or they are just plane Americans. Like they don't need a capital letter, you know?

But does that say something about white privilage then? And should we use capital W just to put white people in the same ethnicity boat so we all have to recognize it? Maybe I am over thinking this.

Liz said...

I used to do it all the time till I got scolded by a professor about it. I used to capitalize both white and black. Now I'm out of practice with it.

Natasha said...

I capitalize both the "B" for Black and the "W" for White, when referring to race--for all the reasons you've stated. I think you have to capitalize both, for consistency and because they both symbolize a large (sometimes overlapping) group of people with shared ancestry and/or culture--whether or not they choose to acknowledge this heritage.

Black American, White American, Native American, European American, African American, my family has it all. Just wish there was a shorter or more descriptive way to say Native American (other than Indian or Amerindian, neither of which I use) without reverting to NA ethnicity.

And girl, you've *got* to make permalinks to your posts--I link to them and then they're halfway down the page. You've got so much great stuff to say, and I want to spread the word.


ch mom said...

Your point is well taken. However, I do wish that there was greater recognition of the diversity of people of the African diasporas here in the US. As a Haitian American of mixed ancestry, I resent the use of the blanket term black or even African American because it really glosses over the rich history of those cultures. And it lends lots of credence to the psuedo science of race. Sorry for the long post, I just had a presentation on racism in my social work class and the conversation came back to the concept of whiteness and what it truly means particularly in relation to black.

Me said...

CC: Thanks for the thoughtful response and keep the B in caps!

Liz: Get back in the habit! It's just like riding a bike. It'll come back to you, and don't let a professor or anyone for that matter scold you. An English professor just sent me a note saying that in the 1960s Black was capitalized in the dictionary, but somehow it fell out of favor. So there is even a historical precedent to cap the B. Fight the power!

Natasha: Thanks for reading and writing and sending folks my way. And the reason I don't have permalinks is that i have no freakin' idea what that means. Although now I think i get what you're talking about and i promise to investigate. I will do my best:)

Ch Mom: Your point is very well taken. And please note, that I call myself Black American because my people, as far as I know, have developed their unique culture from America. I am a proud Black American. Within that is hearty mix of Native American, African and European culture. That being said, I think Haitian Americans or any other folks who come from a unique culture should feel free to self-identify as such. Black Americans and Haitian Americans are not the same. And while I think the term African-American is a misnomer, unless your recent relatives come from the Motherland, who am I to tell people that they can't call themselves by that label?

I believe people should be able to identify themselves however they want and likewise that those terms are given equal respect. Thus, we must capitalize the B.

Thank you everyone for reading the Meltinpot and please spread the word.

Malik said...

I capitalize Black for exactly the reasons you outline. It's an ethnicity. However, I don't see "white" as an ethnicity. I see it as a political class that's comprised of a multitude of ethnicities that were more or less arbitrarily assigned the designation "white". It's not the name of a specific people.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Very interesting post (I found your site from Liz's link) and timely for me.

I'm in the middle of a final edit of my ms and I have been told black and white are not capitalized.

I just read MAN GONE DONE. Black male writer, literary fiction, no caps for Black.

It's all confusing.

Me said...

Malik: Right On!

NYC/CR: Now's your chance. Insist that Black be capitalized and compromise for consistency sake that White is too. Then your book will be one that is part of the process of change. You can explain your reasons and send the copy chief to the Meltingpot and then tell him/her to check out a dictionary from the 1960s. But this is how the revolution begins. When they say no, you say YES!

Good luck! With the revolution and your manuscript.

Monday's Child said...

Gosh I never thought about it until now... I always assumed caps were mandatory just like nationalities... Thanks for bringing it up, I shall pay more attention in future!!

Mother Laura said...

It's not hard to make permalinks so we can send people directly to your specific posts and not just to the overall blog, where they can be hard to find if it's a while back.

Go to "Settings" in Blogger, and then to "Archiving." The second question is "Enable Post Pages". Click yes here and each post will have it's own clickability and linkability.

Thank you again for this post, which convinced me, as I said below in another comment.

Me said...

Thanks ML! For all of your comments and suggestions.

leah sophia said...

In my more formal writing, I always capitalize Black, White, Asian and Hispanic, though informally (like in most blog comments) I don't put much of anything in caps; thanks anyway for the nudge and reminder. I'm totally for each of us claiming our own self-identification and encouraging others to refer to us by what we call ourselves. Does that make sense?

more cowbell said...

This is a great post, and you have gotten me off the fence - thank you. I have actually at times de-capitalized the B, after automatically capitalizing, specifically because of the other side of the coin -- capping the B means capping the W, and while I feel that Black is representative of a culture, a people, I don't hold "White" the same way. It just feels funny to capitalize the white.

It was socially constructed just to benefit that group of people, and it chafes me to give it that recognition as a "culture". I mean, of course white folks do have ethnic culture - Irish, Norwegian, whatever - but I don't feel that we share "white" as an actual culture. The only thing all white people share is our privilege.

Anyway, knowing that if I capitalized the B without capping the W, I'd get that "reverse racism" cry -- so I fiddled around on the fence and made them both lowercase.

Your post has clarified the issue, and caused me to rethink - it's better to compromise, as you say, on the W, than the other way around. Thanks. (In fact, I just went back and capped my last few posts where I used the words.)

Lori said...

Good for you! I agree 100% and I've been capitalizing "B" since I was a kid in high school (umpteen some years ago). But convincing editors to go along with this stance is, for me, an on-going battle. It's good to know I'm not the only one (or Lori) who feels this way (smile).

ebony said...

I never thought about it before. I seem to recall being taught that Black when referring to a people is to be capitalized. I will continue to do so with a new awareness.