black – A Racial Microaggression – Change Needed?
By Dr. Lana W. Jackman, Editor
Which works for you – Black Americans or black Americans?
Capitalizing an adjective that refers to an ethnic group…can this be a mitigating factor in America’s ethos of racial insensitivity?
Generally speaking, according to the grammar police, you capitalize an adjective when it begins a sentence and/or is derived from a proper noun, ex. America – Americans.
However, there is an exception.
According to the academic granddaddy of writing style, the Chicago Manual of Style, you can capitalize the term black when used in reference to race, if the author or publication prefers to do so.
Standard usage in the U.S., however, is to use the lowercase “b” when referencing black people, black culture, black society, etc.
Of course, this issue is constantly debated in various literary/publication circles.
One argument is that if you capitalize black, then you’ll have to capitalize white when referring to race.
And that may embolden white supremacists. But aren’t they emboldened already by American history and tradition?
Another typical example of traditional usage is this recent USA Today headline, “Health issues for blacks, Latinos and Native Americans may cause coronavirus to ravage communities.”
Dear reader, doesn’t that look odd to you?
Publications and websites are read around the world by millions.
And continued use of lowercase “b” when referring to Black people, Black folk or Black culture subliminally suggests the continuation of a historical narrative espousing the pernicious perception and treatment of Black folk as “2nd class citizens”.
Yet, many publications/websites still subscribe to institutionalized traditional standards, like the New York Times and the Washington Post.
And, BTW, isn’t institutionalized racism a major culprit in the ongoing racial unrest that exists in America today?
So, for me, reading any article or website that uses the lowercase b when referencing “black people ” always produces in me a negative, visceral reaction.
Even though the article may include the term African-American, I still get a negative gut reaction whenever I see the reference “black people“.
Consistently having this reading experience often raises, for me, the whole spectrum of Dr. Joy Degruy’s post traumatic slave syndrome, a condition that describes the historical, multi-generational, institutionalized trauma of slavery/racism on the evolution of Black people in America.
And that is tough to handle emotionally and psychologically as an adult, on a regular basis, never mind subjecting children, teenagers, and young adults to the incredible power of subliminal suggestion.
A Viral Solution…
So, regardless of the “literary issues” involved, I think it is time that American society move forward, invoke literary license and standardize the practice of capitalizing the word black in all publications, websites, and social media outlets whenever the term is used to refer to Black people.
And since we are creating a new normal in America, let’s declare the capitalization of Black, whenever referring to Black people, a new literary, social media publication policy… and make it go viral!
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An Academic Pearl of Wisdom
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Your academic adviser knows the campus academically, administratively, and socially.
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