By Dr. Harold Black
My musings typically generate comments. In twelve years the most negative comments I received were over the letter “b”. A copy editor had capitalized all the “bs” in black – where it designated race – and not the “w” for white. I was asked why I did that and my response was “I didn’t” and “I don’t”. After George Floyd the oracle-who-names at the Associated Press decreed that henceforth and forever more, black was Black and white was white. Before George Floyd a couple of newspapers had started the practice but it became universal After George Floyd. The Associated Press gave the following justification for the rebranding: “AP’s style is now to capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, conveying an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa. The lowercase black is a color, not a person. AP style will continue to lowercase the term white in racial, ethnic and cultural senses.” The AP further said that only white supremacists capitalize white and the New York Times opined that “White doesn’t represent a shared culture and history in the way Black does.”
Of course, the explanation from AP and the New York Times is pure garbage. If we go back into history, we find that there has always been fluidity in what people are called. We once said “American Indians” and it is now “Native Americans.” I don’t think the naming oracle consulted the Indians as to what they would like to be called. They probably referred to themselves by their individual tribe. However, the oracle-who-names (who is likely white) decreed “Native Americans” even though they were not native to the Americas. “Indigenous Peoples” would have been more apt.
As to blacks, we were first referred to simply as “slaves”. Then whites used the term “Africans” inferring that blacks were alien to this soil. During the Civil War, black Union soldiers were often called African Americans or troops of African descent. Then came Afro-Americans (which never got traction) and colored and “negro”. The great WEB Dubois campaigned to have the “n” capitalized rightly arguing that the lower case “n” was intended to convey subhuman status and that “negro” was a proper noun. The oracle-who-names agreed and henceforth “negro” became “Negro”. The Civil Rights movement brought forth the effort to change the usage of the term black which conveyed something dark, evil and sinister in contrast to “white” which conveyed purity. Hence “black is beautiful”, “black power”, and black people as a corollary to white people.
Now we have Black versus white. See how the oracle-who-names (who is undoubtedly white) has tried to artificially elevate black people over whites in print as opposed to reality where here in America we should strive to make all beings equal. Again the AP justification is that blacks as a race share history, identity and community and whites don’t. Excuse me? What is shared by American blacks is America. Africa is much more diverse than Europe, with more distinct tribal groups, cultures and languages. American blacks in the main come from a small slice of the African continent. My black African ancestors come from the countries surrounding Ghana and had nothing in common but their color. They were not from Ghana which was the home of the black slave traders. So when I went on Safari three times in South Africa, no one came up to me saying “welcome home my brother” in Ndebele. My people came from farther north.
Our shared history cannot be African but American. Our shared history began with slavery in American and not from the wide range of cultures from the African continent. The oracle-who-names implies that we all look alike. We don’t. Only in Tarzan’s New York Adventure could the Ape Man and Jane identify blacks by tribal groups. My father’s family initially disapproved of my mother for being too white while Mom’s family thought my Dad was too black. Indeed, my father said he was rejected when he applied to an HBCU because he was too dark. When I was in South Africa, I could tell tribal groups but not here in America. I dare you to tell me my tribal origins. My DNA lists 10 distinct groups only three of which are African.
Black is not a proper noun – unless it is my last name- and should not be capitalized. When the oracle-who-names decreed that African American should replace “black” I was asked to referee a scholarly paper in my field. I found that several of my papers were cited but attributed to someone named “Harold African-American.”
The oracle-who-names is offering a lame explanation that tries to justify his own political view. As pointed out by a very smart observer “George Orwell had a character in his class dystopian novel say, the destruction of certain words “narrow the range of thought” to the point that individuals in society are not as capable of a broader range of thought. Words can be weapons, and different individuals ascribe differing meanings to words, largely due to their own personal experiences.” So adopt the AP’s spelling or not. It depends on your personal views. But it is not grammar. It is purely political.
You may contact Dr. Black by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.