I’ve been sitting on this piece for quite some time. It’s witnessed two Black History Months pass by, actually.
After the resurgence of racial upheaval and tensions (e.g. Trayvon Martin), racist ideologies and commentary spewed forth, tipped over by yesterday’s Gawker post regarding the outrage of the Hunger Games’ casting of Black folks for—get this—Black characters, a piece indicative of a large slice of mainstream America, its pop culture and racist attitudes, i figured it was about time i published this.
Let’s put this out there from the jump: black is a color; Black is an embodiment of culture, of history, of music—a people.
Black people: we are a collective having been put through the ringer of slavery; we have been ripped apart, shredded, sold, re-sold and re-packaged, attempting still today to piece ourselves back together, tattered remains Elmer’s glued, hand-sewn with reused thread; for that, at minimum, ‘Black’ demands capitalization.
There is a stark distinction that needs to be highlighted or else the continued descent in importance of positive names will never cease. It is discouraging and disheartening to see the perpetuated interchangeable use of the words black and Black, of pronouns and “normal” words in general.
Capitalization of a word versus the lowercased version means more than many folks would think. Take for instance the words catholic and Catholic: they may look exactly alike, but their meanings are far from the same. The former means “liberal or open-minded” and the latter, “religious devotee of the Roman Catholic faith.” And, looking throughout history, the atrocities in the name of the Cross, the ignorance and extreme prejudice of today’s world regarding immigrants and homosexual marriage, the perpetual oppression of women, Catholic is not a shining example of being open-minded; it’s the total opposite. But i won’t get into religion. Not now. I’ve a forthcoming website with my brother strictly for that.
black |blak|adjective1 of the very darkest color; the opposite of white; colored like coal, due to the absence of or complete absorption of light : black smoke | her hair was black.• deeply stained with dirt : his clothes were absolutely black.2 (also Black) of any human group having dark-colored skin, esp. of African or Australian Aboriginal ancestry : black adolescents of Jamaican descent.• of or relating to black people : black culture.3 figurative (of a period of time or situation) characterized by tragic or disastrous events; causing despair or pessimism : five thousand men were killed on the blackest day of the war | the future looks black for those of us interested in freedom.• (of a person’s state of mind) full of gloom or misery; very depressed :Jean had disappeared and Mary was in a black mood.• (of humor) presenting tragic or harrowing situations in comic terms: “Good place to bury the bodies,” she joked with black humor.• full of anger or hatred : Roger shot her a black look.• archaic very evil or wicked : my soul is steeped in the blackest sin.noun1 black color or pigment : a tray decorated in black and green | a series of paintings done only in grays and blacks.• black clothes or material, often worn as a sign of mourning : dressed in the black of widowhood.• darkness, esp. of night or an overcast sky : the only thing visible in the black was the light of the lantern.2 (also Black) a member of a dark-skinned people, esp. one of African or Australian Aboriginal ancestry : a coalition of blacks and whites against violence.
Looking at the above, i cannot help but want to separate self from the antiquated definition of a word—a word used daily by us all. It’s an association that has become an unconscious collective embodiment. From children choosing white dolls over black dolls, to holidays (Black Friday or a white Christmas), to the dark or white knight, to anger and hatred or evil and wicked.
Thankfully, the term “black” is now considered archaic in the eyes of dictionary editors; however, ask anyone—ask yourself—is the connotation still “evil” or “bad” in your mind? Can you picture an innocent person with dark skin? (If one looks at the Hunger Games outrage, a ton of folks cannot.) When we use the term “black humor” what is meant? Or what about “black films?” By the dictionary definition, it would mean grossly tragic, but without a capitalization, there’s room for confusion: is it being a movie made for and/or by a Black person, or the comedic trope for/by Black folks. Ambiguity isn’t a good thing here—hell, it rarely is. Cut the fat off and get right to the heart of the matter.
We can start with the lowercased version: black means dark, gloomy, absence, evil, a sullen or morose mood. Black on the contrary is a pro-noun, an embodiment of history, culture, music; it’s the collective of a people, one bloc that has continued to be striated over something as fickle and asinine (biological charade, socially perpetuated) as the color of skin dignifying different “races.”
Of course i had to quote Malcolm X, who opined an important facet of the words ‘black’ and ‘negro’ decades ago:
The term “negro” developed from a word in the Spanish language which is actually an adjective meaning “black,” that is, the color black. In plain English, if someone said or was called a “black” or a “dark,” even a young child would very naturally question. “A black what?” or “A dark what?” because adjectives do not name, they describe. Please take note that in order to make use of this mechanism, a word was transferred from another language and deceptively changed in function from an adjective to a noun, which is a naming word. Its application in the nominative (naming) sense was intentionally used to portray persons in a position of objects or “things.” It stamps the article as being “all alike and all the same.” It denotes: a “darkie,” a slave, a subhuman, an ex-slave, a “negro.” Malcolm X, malcolm-x.org
At what point did we stop believing in ourselves, respecting ourselves? When did it become less important for self-aggrandizement? Going back to our leaders during the 50s through 70s, we made sure to uplift via literary devices, to show we mattered in the smallest of matters. I’m not a fan of putting other blocs down, i.e. how we would de-capitalize “white” while we used “Black,” but i get it, i understand why—we were taking back our power. Today, though, we are not in that dire climate of the pre- and directly post-Civil Rights Movement era, we have a president with similar blood flowing through him, with DNA of our kin.
When i capitalize White, it is for equivalency reasons, it’s to maintain a standard, to stave away ambiguity: they represent the other, the non-Black, they are the Europeans, the ancestral lineage of our slave masters, the current holders of immense power—the “leaders”—in the world. With that said, the Black collective is not limited to those who were involuntary volunteers from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean, but Asians and Natives of what we deem North America, all whom were enslaved, displaced, diseased and/or thoroughly eradicated—our collective histories share a common thorn in our sides, roots ripped out by similar if not the same generations of hands. In many circles, this is known as Pan-Africanism.
We give credence to other groups by using these terms: Latinos/Latinas, Asians, and other peoples—but anything saved for us, Black folks, is not put into printed form with a capitalization, but always in the same way as an ink’s color: black. It’s unsettling.
Even if we were to adopt the terms brown or yellow or any other color, there is no association that is so attached as black—black in itself has its own long history, centuries long even.
When white and black are lowercased, used right now to talk about a person or people, white is still greater: they have more social and economic power than we do in this country, in this world.
Looking back through America’s history, there are tomes where the names of Black people were bestowed on us without our say, and they were lowercased, while White’s were not. Even in the printed form, a medium in which we were not privy to for we were actually banned from learning to use, was a platform for subjugation, even if in such a seemingly trivial way, yet it would slowly termite its way into the mental foundations: we were not deserving of capitalization. I’d liken it gendering of deities in religion, specifically the most powerful one almost universally being made male.
Moving on to a more collective outlook, it was refreshing (reassuring a better word?) several weeks ago during the Linsanity phase to see an Asian writer employing similar tactics in his writing as myself (if a tad bit inconsistent; but i blame that on proofreading lol).
One can be a Black person with White humor, writing black poems in blue ink on white paper, awaiting death by the hands of a White executioner with black thoughts. Distinctions. This is an example of side-stepping ambiguity, but also giving all people their just distinction.
It is the littlest things to me that mean the most. And the littlest things are most overlooked, eventually amounting to grander issues that could have been avoided.