It’s been nearly two hundred years since Ida B. Wells said we should capitalize the “B” in Black when referring to Black people.
Today, Kirkus announced that 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests have informed a new decision to capitalize Black in all future articles when referring to people of African diaspora.
Oh, and they will also be capitalizing “white.” And there is a James Brown lyric in the middle of the statement, which connects to nothing.
Anyway. The statement seems to root itself in the argument that making “white” lowercase and Black uppercase denies the uncomfortable legacy of whiteness and makes us not think about it anymore. And even if seeing “White” makes people uncomfortable . . . come on guys, isn’t discomfort the point?
No. Some of us can’t afford to simply adopt the same language habits of white nationalists, re-frame the purpose of them, and call it a day.
Blink and you’d miss the “aw shucks” moment when Kirkus paints white supremacists as pesky mosquitoes rather than a network of fully human agents, editors, and executives that booby-trap Black writers’ success with the lie that stories told in white dialectics reflect higher literary merit.
We heighten the B to represent a series of cultures with African roots, which may not be known to us but are a part of us intrinsically. We use Black to promote empowerment across the diaspora, to remind ourselves that Black Brits, Black Caribbeans and Black Americans may share universal experiences.We heighten the B to recognize the undoing of inter-generational racial wealth gaps that lead to opportunity disparity in publishing today.
We use “Black” in America because white people burned the history that tied us to our indigenous lands on a genocide mission that wiped Indigenous peoples out of their native lands. So our culture is the one we developed in the place itself, while rising out of this subjugation. Black culture.
“White culture”, conversely, represent a history of colonization and theft. The appearance of the large W does not erase insight into white inheritance so much as it requires every white person to engage with the idea that they are descendants of an abusive history, and challenge them to untangle the disparities left in place by that history. To say that “White” should be capitalized just because “Black” is rejects language’s power to deconstruct oppressive symbols and suggests that white supremacy and imperialism are as culturally relevant as Black empowerment. They are not.
A language shift meant to empower Black people does not have to invite the oppressors to the table in order to be legitimate. Period!