Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Should it be Black or black?

"It's all a bunch of crap. Americans are Americans are Americans. I am of Irish, Dutch, English and German heritagebut I am not called European-American, just American. Why can't we all just leave it at that. I you live in England, you are British. If you live in Germany, you are German. If you live in Africa, you are African. And if you live in America, you are American. ENOUGH ALREADY!"

That comment was from a poster named "Chief" who was commenting on a message board where i happened to be lurking. They were talking about capitalizing the b in black and the w in white. The question was; is it proper to do so?

Now i know that the PC set will always capitalize the B when they refer to us black folks. But please don't do us any favors, it's just a fucking letter in a word, it won't improve one public school or get one single illegal gun off the street.

This fine Afrospear blogger had a problem with the Houston Chronicle not capitalizing the b in black, and it prompted an interesting discussion. And note Francis Holland's comments in the comment section of that post: He is right of course, some white people lose their natural minds when the B in black is capitalized. As if black folks are going to somehow become empowered because there is a capital B in black. (See "Chief", that's why we can't just leave shit in A-merry-ca, because people get hung up over a capital fucking B)

But it's an interesting question, and i have gotten e-mails in the past about it. "Field why don't you capitalize the B when you write the word black when referring to black folks?" Ahhh because it's a color designation and not a reference to a race or nationality. Now to be honest, i am such a lazy ass writer, and i have such disregard for such things (just ask my grammar coach woozie) that there might have been a time or two where i might actually have capitalized the B in black, and i probably went on to write the b as lower case in the very next sentence. And if someone looks hard enough, i am sure they will find posts where I capitalized the W in white, and where i used the lower case w as well. My writing is just schizo like that.

If i am referring to an Asian, a Native American, a Caucasian, or a Negro, i will always capitalize, because that is an ethnic designation. But if i am referring to someones supposed color, well, as my man Borat says; "not so much". "But field what about the word colored?" Nope, i won't capitalize that either. That is still referring to a form of color designation, and besides, us black folks don't even like that word anymore. So "colored" will always have a lower case c when i use it. You will never see me capitalizing "colored". Never!

And a countries' first letter will always get capitalized, even if i spell it funny. So i will never start A-merry-ca with a lower case, because, well, it's a country, and A-merry-cans deserve more.

Oh well, maybe one of the smart people who comment here will tell me what is proper and what is not. i know one thing i am going back to capitalizing i. My ego can't take this lower case shit anymore. Yes, I like this a little better.


Ferocious Kitty said...

**"Field why don't you capitalize the B when you write the word black when referring to black folks?" Ahhh because it's a color designation and not a reference to a race or nationality.**

I only recently started capitalizing the B in black when referring to us folks, because of the influence of some fellow writers/thinkers I admire. The article I was working on at the time was about racial disparities in foster care so that were many opportunities to deal with this. I capitalize the B to recognize it as a designation for a group of human beings, as opposed to a black sweater or a black crayon. Therefore, I capitalize the W in white as well.

My 2 pennies...

Unknown said...

i don't capitalise anything when writing out of pure laziness

interesting points made though...

Unknown said...

and to make your day field...


ZACK said...

Lark Voorhies said Hi!

That should calm you down. She was really cute back in the day. But wasn't no brothas on Saved By The Bell. Was Lark a sellout, or was the "man" trying to brainwash her?

And oh yeah, about this post,
capitalization is for school teachers.

rikyrah said...

I'm Rikyrah and I'm

Black and I'm Proud.

I capitalize it, because I just get the sense that those who don't want to minimize us....and I'm not going to go along with them.

Do you know how long it took for newspapers to capitalize Negro?

So, yeah, I capitalize Black.

Anonymous said...


I have no idea which way to go on this topic. I'm like you. I've done it both ways, and I likely forget to capitalize because I can be lazy while blogging at one in the morning.

BTW Popeye's was very good and I'm surprised they didn't put those coupons in your Sunday newspaper. Damn shame.

Jasmine said...

Hmm? I don't know if I capitalize or not. I doubt it. Never actually though about it but being that it's a color and not an ethnicity I probably don't think to do it... But then again, maybe I should because in the reference of the sentence in can carry the connotation of an ethnicity? IDK... Too much is made of words and not actions.

DebC said...


I always capitalize the word Black when I write, though my editor at my old newspaper would go right behind me and make it lower-case. His explanation (and that of the AP manual under which we wrote) was "Deb, Black is a color and therefore not capitalized." I told him, "Fine, you'll have to correct it every Saturday in my columns and for every editorial I have to write because, though I am clearly of African descent, I was born and raised in America and it doesn't take a rocket-scientist to see my ass is Black." I am an American who happens to be Black - not African-American (the hyphenated shit drives me crazy!).

I'm certain, having grown up in the Deep South with the powers that be, along with some of my light-skinned brothers and sisters who made sure I knew that I was Black as hell and none to cute for it, had a lot do with where I stand on this today.

The "Black Power" and "I'm Black and I'm proud" era had a lot to do with my forming a positive opinion of myself when nigger, jigaboo, monkey, nappy-headed, Black-assed, rice-eating Geechie was the order of the day. Say what you want about James Brown, but he changed a lot of people's lives, including mine. With that one song, he helped mend my race/brown-bag test failin', broken self-esteem.

Being a Field Negro (and I WAS one, picking beans, corn, okra, squash, watermelon, tomatoes, peanuts, you name it - until, thank the Lord, my grandmother decided to make me run the "stand," where we sold vegetables to the white people who came to summer on the beach because I wasn't bringing in enough money to matter. She recognized my penchant for "a place for everything and everything in it's place" (now labeled OCD). My outgoing, friendly personality and mathematical acumen helped her decide that I would better serve the family on the stand than in the fields. Shit, I was happy! Picking okra itches the hell out of your skin if your long-sleeved shirt in 90 to 100 degree weather didn't make your ass pass out first!

So, Black is what I am, always have been and always will be - and I will capitalize it despite the fact that it is journalistically incorrect. Let the damn editors and copywriters earn their money!

Anonymous said...

Black is a color, an attitude, and a mindset.

It's a color for sure, but depending on your mindset it could reference the high-tone, the low-tone, and every tone in between.

One popular black writer went on record some years ago denouncing the use of black as a racial reference for Negroes. He mused: "How can you call a taffy-skin girl 'black.'"

Strangely, he didn't show the same opposition to the use of the term white for Caucasians.

It's an attitude. It's what separates a black grandmother from a Jewish grandmother, and an Irish grandmother from an Italian grandmother.

You can't think of a grandmother from each of these four ethnic groups, and see them as attitudinally similar, except in title only.

Its the attitude--that almost incomprehensible, indecipherable cultural distinction--that sets them apart.

Finally, its a mindset. Yes, I would say that you could be white and black as well, a paradox that's not so paradoxical once you give it some thought, but it could upset the ethnicity purists among us.

Similarly, you could be black and white as well--a distinction that's often derided, and almost universally condemned, and rarely connotes the honor usually bestowed on the reverse mindset.

Big 'B' or little 'b'?

I could care less. I've been black so long that to 'B' or not to 'b' is no longer the question.

AQUILOGY said...

You choose to capitalize Negro and not Black even though they mean the same thing?
Isn't Negro a spanish for Black?

Ann Brock said...

Field it should be capitalize because from Black we get every color and from white nothing.

Hathor said...

I capitalize to make a point or at the beginning a of sentence, otherwise it is lower case.

ref. Absolute
I used that map in a post not too long ago.

field negro said...

marci, you did make my day. Actually rikyrah pointed out that article to me yesterday. So my WEEK has been made:) It's a Lark thing!

"but there wasn't no brothas on Saved By the Bell.."

Zack, that is one of the biggest travesties in A-merry-can history. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves as a country for that one.

ferocious kitty, you gave a pretty good explanation. At least it seems logical.

deb, I like your explanation as well,it's more of a personal thing with folks like you and rykirah, and I can understand that too.

aquilogy, I don't think Negro and black means the same thing. Not in English. I understand that the word Negro might have come from the Spanish meaning of black, but that doesn't mean that we use it in English for the same thing no?

shonufded, "to be B or not to be b..."? Ahhh I love your writing :)

Christopher said...

This is fascinating stuff.

OK, if we're using the upper case "B" for Black, then I intend to use the upper case "G" for Gay.

No more black people -- it's Black people. Proper name rule.

No more gay people -- it's Gay people. Proper name rule.

From now on I am a proud, Gay American of Italian descent.

David Sullivan said...

"We're all very different people. We're not Watusi, we're not Spartans, we're Americans. With a capital "A", huh? And you know what that means? Do you? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts." Bill Murray, Stripes

I love this quote and its pertains to everyone except the slaves who were stolen and brought here, not kicked out. Thats why I use a capital B for Blacks.

We are all Americans. We all watch the same shitty TV and eat the same shitty food and breathe the same shitty air and are hypnotized by the same shitty media. "And thats the fact Jack!"

The Christian Progressive Liberal said...

I think that's why I tend to use "African-American" when referring to us, as opposed to "Black" because I'll capitalize the "B" and then have to engage in discussions like this one.

When using "African-American" you know you're going to capitalize it, and anyone else using "African-American" will have to capitalize it, too.

The end.

Anonymous said...

It's a sign of respect and recognition to use a capital.

Anonymous said...

very interesting........ Like some of the others here I don't think I thought about this ever when writing the word Black. Maybe I will have to make an effort to do so going forward as I respect our people to the fullest.

Anonymous said...

Deb - are you from St. Helena SC?? You sound like we could be cousins! I HATED picking okra in the summer. Hot as hell and you know you had to wear the long-sleeves! I sure miss some of those days though...

Naj in VA

Anonymous said...

Negro is synonymous with Black... Both are racial identifications, not ethnic.

Foofa said...

I capitalize when I remember to but I am an incredibly lazy writer who rarely edits anything i put on the web so I am sure there are plenty of inconsistencies. Certainly when I was writing papers it was capitalized, I think my professors would have corrected me if I had it lowercase. Also, to me, Black speaks of cultural identity so capitalization makes sense. I don't tend to capitalize white because I haven't experienced white culture the same way I do a Black culture. White culture seems to be more ethnically separate. However, since many of us American Black folk had our cultural heritage stolen this monolithic new cultural heritage/common history was developed so we get to capitalize.

grown said...

I do not capitalize out of sheer laziness.

"It's a sign of respect and recognition to use a capital."
I wholeheartedly disagree. If someone is calling you nigger, writing the N in capital letters doesn't make it respectful phrase.

Caps serve no purpose other than to show the beginning of the next sentence...

DP said...


Appreciate the link love. This issue has sparked an interesting conversation in the Afrosphere and here too from the looks of things.

The Chronicle's initial response (from the articles author) was that this is policy, even though she stated no other paper she's worked at had a similar policy. Isaiah Too has a follow up with the editor scheduled to talk about equivalency. By that I mean if you're referring to multiple other groups as a proper noun, then use African-Americans instead of Black in that instance. That way you can avoid the controversy all together.

But we are in Houston, so the Chronicle might not be even trying to avoid controversy.

Anonymous said...

Field, it was nice of you to go down the road of explaining the whole uppercase vs. lowercase decisions in typing. Why thank you. What a lovely touch. :)

But the Chief's comment is a little different. He is more or less complaing about African Americans using the African American title and that we should follow the lead of some Europeans who do not always attach the name of their ancestral homeland to their race. So, I ask what gives any other group of people the right to challenge us what we call ourselves. I would never question someone else like that. We've been controlled long enough. We, unlike other groups of people, are in the process of trying to find out where we come from. With not so good records kept on us in colonial times, for the most part all we know is that we're from Africa. And with that nasty thing called slavery, we lost much more such as our native tongue, culture, customs, religion, etc. But my question to the Chief would be, why does it bother him what other people call themselves? It's a mind your own business type of thing. *shrug*

Kellybelle said...

I cap Black. I made an editorial guide for our department that when we use the word on product for Blacks and we're talking about people and not the color it has to be capped. No one's said anything yet. I did get a lot of flack from whites for using Negro Spiritual instead of African American Spiritual. huh.

DP said...

Also - I cap Black too because the way the word is used here in America, it refers to an ethnic group.

Anonymous said...

How's about this -- yinz decide what you want to be called, and I'll call you it!

My mileage is when it's an obvious descriptor 'black man' (meaning how to find that man on the street), and when you're talking culture 'Black Experience'

Then again, I believe that people ought to be called what they fought to be called (be that Negro, Black or African American).

I did have the discussion 'Are you a Jewish American or an American Jew?' Bout as silly, if you ask me.

west coast story said...

I'm not African American because not all African Americans are black people, and I want to make it REAL clear that I am a black woman. I never understood that African American nonsense. It makes us look like we suffer from one big fat annual identity crisis.

I don't capitalize it because it was always called out as wrong or was corrected behind me. Frankly, it doesn't matter anymore. People know what I'm talking about. I suppose once we clean up our education system, pvertry, crime, teen pregnancy, drugs, etc., we could make an issue of it. It's really not on my list of priorities.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm in the camp that generally lowercases "black" and uppercases "African American"...but I went to journalism school so I was brainwashed with the Associated Press Stylebook. I'm a victim of my environment. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Field- you need to explore why white people are so intimidated by Black people calling themselves African American. I cannot understand it. Everyone else can call themselves whatever they want except for Black people. People should be able to call themselves whatever they want to call themselves. No one and I mean no one gets angry or intimidated by Italian American, German American or Irish American, only African American. I just don't get it. Can someone, anyone shed any light on this please?

DebC said...

Anonymous..."Deb - are you from St. Helena SC??"

Nope Charleston, but until we were old enough to get a job, we spent every summer with my grandmother and her "last shift" of kids (she had 19 of which my mother was the first) on Edisto Island so my parents could work their three jobs in "town" and not wonder where the hell we were! :-)

Funny, I miss those days too. Could be because back then, the vision was clearer, the goal more defined and existing was simpler. I pretty much knew with whom I was dealing. Not much "throwing the rock and hiding your hand" going on. When the rock came, you knew exactly who threw the damn thing and why! After that, only thing left was to decide if I was willing to deal with the consequences of my subsequent actions!

SagaciousHillbilly said...

I disagree iin part. When referring to a group of people as "Blacks" or "Whites," it's probably proper to capitalize the letter. That said, WTF difference does it make? None. I totally agree that we have some serious issues in this country that HAVE to be addressed and what to call me or how to write what I am is not one of them.
I'll bet I could find plenty of folks who would say "educate my kids in good schools and make sure they have all the opportunity they can handle and you can call me anything."

Anonymous said...


I love that opening quote! It's true! In America, we make all sorts of categories for people to include their ancestral origin.

But then, when someone like Tiger Woods gets his ancestry completely accurate and includes ALL of his gene pool then he's scorned and laughed at by black people for NOT just claiming to have ONE ancestral bloodline.

I've heard very ignorant black people say, "if you look BLACK then you are BLACK"... but the reality is that you can LOOK black and still have other ancestry besides African and there is nothing wrong with knowing ALL OF your roots.

Thanks for letting me share my two cents!


SagaciousHillbilly said...

If my family was from Rhodesia and got run out when it became Zimbabwe and moved to America, would I be an African-American even though I'm white?
Hillbilly minds want to know.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, who are you to call someone ignorant if you do not share another person's point of view? You are not ignorant.

The point of the matter is that many people are ashamed of their African-ness and will go out of their way to point out everything else in their ancestry but the black blood. Self hate does exist. I wouldn't call them ignorant. No. It's an illness. It's because it's part of a mindset much deeper than we can scratch the surface on a blog. We have to watch whom we call ignorant and be mindful of their experiences.

Anonymous said...

HillyBilly, white people who traveled from Europe to Rhodesia are not native to Africa. Just because you steal someone's home doesn't mean you get to take their name too. Sorry. No dice.

west coast story said...

SagaciousHillbilly said...
"If my family was from Rhodesia and got run out when it became Zimbabwe and moved to America, would I be an African-American even though I'm white?
Hillbilly minds want to know."

The answer is yes, you would be African American and there some whites from African who do call themselves that. There was even a case about a white woman from Africa who applied for a scholarship for African Americans. Don't know how it was resolved. I assume she got the grant. Anyway, no offense to white people but I am black and proud and will always refer to and identify with being called black.

OT and no one probably cares but this Olympic torch run in SF has made a mess of downtown. All I've heard all morning and up until now is sirens. Transit is all farked up. And the darn run hasn't even started yet. Hope it's fixed by quitting time. I needed to vent.

A (Parisian) Seattleite back in Seattle said...

I don't agree with using colors to describe people, because they are more often than not inaccurate. But if people do use colors, does it really matter if they're capitalized or not? Big B or small b - it's still the same term.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:21, I agree with you about Lisa. She has no right calling someone ignorant if they do not share another person's point of view. I am one of those so called "very ignorant black folks" who says if the person looks black, they are. I don't go up and talk to every negro I meet so how the hell am I supposed to know they are mixed? People who have to run down their list ancestries in order to distance themselves from blackness have my pity, though they do not deserve it. To me, if you look black, you are black and that is how you're seen by everyone else. Po-Po is not checking for other less visible ancestries when they pull your ass over and neither is that employer you're interviewing with.

DebC said...

SagaciousHillbilly...yes you would. In a bi-weekly dialogue on race in America I conducted for a couple years in FL, we had a white, South African couple bring up that very same point as we discussed the issue of Black vs African-American.

Lola Gets said...

I dont like the use of the lower case i at all.

Ive always used an upper case B when I use the word in reference to Black people. Why? Well, "Im Black and Im proud!" - got that video on my blog now! And, well, why not? (Im really tired right now, so Im not going to make much sense).

But, Kellybelle had an interesting point regarding her useage. Yeah, thats why I do it, lol.


Anonymous said...

Using colors to denote ethnicity doesn't make a lot of sense, especialy if trying to explain these constructs to children. I don't always capitalize, probably a combination of laziness and not sure what to use.

Anonymous said...

First, the xenophobe who thinks that the word american only applies to the former descendants of the 49 craved out parcels of Native americans terrain is foolish. South and Central americans have just as much right to use such terminology for themselves.. Second, let us keep the colours and adjectives as that -black... and not noun-ah-fy it to Black.. As an African, i within my rights of power to define simply wish to be referred to as African period! no hyphens nor dangling modifiers.. it doesnt matter where my watermelon size body popped out of my mothers loins what matters is how i am viewed and treated by the world and my heritage and linkage to the continent of my forebearers.

keep yo colours in the crayola crayon box please

Unknown said...

I never capitalize the "b" in black. It's a color. I'm an American who happens to be black.

I think stupid things like this are started by white liberals to keep black people from focusing on the real issues. For example: education in the black community. They then get our vote without having to really do anything cause the "b" in black is now capitalized.

Christopher said...

One thing I've never been comfortable with is when I hear someone say, "People of different races," or, "The races see the issue differently."

The races? What am I missing?

Aren't we all homo sapiens? Aren't we all bipedals, with erect bodies possessing developed minds capable of abstract reasoning who originated millions of years ago in Africa? My blood can be tranfused into an African American patient and vice versa?

We're all members of the Human Race.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Christopher, but it sounds kinda funny to call different members of our race/species "breeds" like we would with animals. People always need some way to categorize themselves and others. It's human nature, for good or ill.

Christopher said...

Deacon Blue,

Yeah, I guess. But for me, then what you're talking about is ethnicity and not race.

I just don't see all that much difference between humanity. Maybe skin tone varies, but we all have more in common than separates us.

Am I missing some larger point?

Anonymous said...

we all have more in common than separates us.

I cosign a 100%. But let me take it a step further: nothing "separates us."

We're All One.

newgirl448 said...

The nomenclature has to be seen from an evolutionary perspective, established and successively re-established in step with the needs and realities of our people.

1.nigger-chattel;subhuman. But we were never that. Not even the chains could make it so, so it had to change.
2.negro-derived from negroid;perhaps no longer a slave but reduced in description to the most insignificant of all human characteristics,physical features. No inherent suggestion of where we come from or where we need to go. Static. Impotent. So it had to change.
3.colored-a step toward defining ourselves for ourselves, but one that affirms the essential, supreme nature of whiteness. So it had to change.
4.black-Here's where we started cookin'. black hats, black magic, black tuesday, black lies, black people...black as disease, death, profanity, wretchedness. The white West infused that word with the devil and then slapped it on our foreheads. We reclaimed it and honored it and ourselves as beautiful. It was glorious and necessary but fell short of engaging/challenging the social order. So it had to change.
5.Black-is race. It is our social, economic, and political reality in american society. Capitalizing the "B" was/is a recognition that being born Black has social, economic, and political ramifications that are inescapable in a racist culture. Capitalizing the "B" is about standing up to the challenge. I don't capitalize the "w" in white b/c no such race-based challenged has ever been waged against the humanity of white people and so it would be silly. The "B" is about awareness in A-merry-ca. But while this country is race-obsessed, race is not a sound organizing principle for moving a people forward. And so it could not stand alone.
6.African-American---Afro-American briefly preceded this, but then we stopped playing around. African American is ethnicity and ethnicity is the basis for group development and group protection in american life. It can be used complimentarily with Black, but not interchangeably.

So, to sum up, I always capitalize "B," never capitalize "w," and always capitalize ethnic designations of all peoples (African-American, Haitian-American, Irish-American..."). I love this blog:-)

SingaporeSwim said...

sometimes i cap the b in "black" when referring to us and sometimes i don't. capitalization is not a huge deal imo but, in formal writing, i cap proper names out of propriety and "respect."

a better question might be why we are called "black" - which has mostly negative connotations except in the expression "in the black").
"white" is purity and light while "black" is evil and dark.

SingaporeSwim said...

in answer to your ?...
i don't consider "black" a proper name when used to describe our race so generally i don't cap it but after looking up a definition of proper name (a noun that denotes a particular thing; usually capitalized)
i suppose that "black" could rightfully be capped when used to refer to the "particular thing" of a race of people?

Anonymous said...

1. Not capitalizing black when referring to people is wrong since most people who are Black (even in Africa) are brown in color.
2. A white person from Africa now in America isn't an African American since I don't recognize the right people (and descendants) who went with the express purpose of subjugating/exterminating Africans to then call themselves African like some damn doppelganger.
3. Re: quote at top. Ever notice that those who complain about "hyphenated" Americans and say we're all just Americans take a different attitude if you talk about, for instance, crime. Suddenly we're no longer all just American, it's a Black problem.

SingaporeSwim said...

since our nomenclature has evolved over time and the B stands for the struggles and challenges of an entire race and supposedly empowers its oppressed members, could Black be hackneyed and passe for some Blacks?

SingaporeSwim said...

have u ever noticed that the upper and lower cased "B/black" is also conveyed in verbal communication?
when bill o'rally bloviates about blacks he consciously inflects the lower case tense. at faux news, "black" is pc for the "n" word.

Anonymous said...

Christopher, you're not missing a thing, man. I didn't have a "larger" point, really. My point is only that people are going to seek a way to designate and separate. People had to choose a word, and "race" stuck.

You're right that the choice of words and even the need to delineate between types of humans on that level is silly. But it's also inevitable, I think, based on human nature. If we stop using "race" then someone will simply replace it with something else, probably something even worse.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Ethnicity and race are two different things.

Race -
From a biological point of view and definition, there is only one race of homo sapiens. The differences between humans from say, Africa, Britain and Mongolia is not enough to constitute separate races within the species.
When using the term "race," in reference to humans, it is a purely sociological term used to differentiate people who developed in different geographic areas with some slightly different physical characteristics.

Ethnicity is about the culture and society that a person is from. It has nothing to do with skin color or any physical characteristic although, people from a common ethnic groups often share common physical characteristics.


newgirl448 said...

I think that Black people get tired of the oppression and the limitation that come with the reality that is being Black in american society, sure. "Hackneyed and passe" I think are terms better used to reference passing trends, which is not at all what I'm talking about. What I was trying to describe was a people in a protracted, evolving struggle to define ourselves in ways that are relevant and that are designed to come to terms with the reality of group politics in american society.

And I'm sure you're right about fox news-my lack of capitalization here intended to communicate lack of respect-but I don't watch it because I find it hard to keep my food down when I do.

Bob said...

Doesn't really concern me. It would concern me if I were getting paid for the writing, but in that case I'd have an editor to correct everything. For some reason, it does bother me when people write "MLK" numerous times in a piece of writing rather than "Dr. King." I think the man's life earned the honorific prefix.

SingaporeSwim said...

newgirl448 said: What I was trying to describe was a people in a protracted, evolving struggle to define ourselves in ways that are relevant and that are designed to come to terms with the reality of group politics in american society.
we must begin to think global vs. national. in our emerging/evolving global economy, we may be well-advised to remove the "african" from "african-american."

Anonymous said...

I never capitalize "black" or "white." I always capitalize "Negro." Historically, legendary journalist and statesman Lester Walton spent his entire career advocating and lobbying that the white press capitalize "Negro." Just think about that. White newspapers used to write "negro." That's like a double slap, looking back.

field negro said...

Claude, thanks for that little history lesson. I honestly didn't know that. That's field Negro behavior on your part.

Anonymous said...

Yup, thanks. Here's one example off Walton's efforts, from a 1913 letter he wrote to the NY Times. Walton was later ambassador to Liberia.

Anonymous said...

black (blak)
Abbr. bl., blk. adjective
black·er, black·est

1.Color. Being of the color black, producing or reflecting comparatively little light and having no predominant hue.
2.Having little or no light: a black, moonless night.
3.Often Black (blak) a. Of, relating to, or belonging to a racial group having brown to black skin, especially one of African origin: the Black population of South Africa. b. Of, relating to, or belonging to an American ethnic group descended from African peoples having dark skin; African American; Afro-American: “When the history books are written in future generations, the historians will . . . say, ‘There lived a great people—a black people—who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization’” (Martin Luther King, Jr.).“Despite the exposure, being young, gifted and Black in the corridors of power has its trying moments” (Ebony).
4.Very dark in color: rich black soil; black, wavy hair.
5.Soiled, as from soot; dirty: feet black from playing outdoors.
6.Evil; wicked: the pirates' black deeds.
7.Cheerless and depressing; gloomy: black thoughts.
8.Marked by anger or sullenness: gave me a black look.
9.Often Black (blak) Attended with disaster; calamitous: the stock market crash on Black Friday.
10.Deserving of, indicating, or incurring censure or dishonor: “Man . . . has written one of his blackest records as a destroyer on the oceanic islands” (Rachel Carson).
11.Wearing clothing of the darkest visual hue: the black knight.
12.Served without milk or cream: black coffee.
13.Appearing to emanate from a source other than the actual point of origin. Used chiefly of intelligence operations: black propaganda; black radio transmissions.
14.Disclosed, for reasons of security, only to an extremely limited number of authorized persons; very highly classified: black programs in the Defense Department; the Pentagon's black budget.
15.Chiefly British. Boycotted as part of a labor union action.


1.Color. a. The achromatic color value of minimum lightness or maximum darkness; the color of objects that absorb nearly all light of all visible wavelengths; one extreme of the neutral gray series, the opposite being white. Although strictly a response to zero stimulation of the retina, the perception of black appears to depend on contrast with surrounding color stimuli. b. A pigment or dye having this color value.
2.Complete or almost complete absence of light; darkness.
3.Clothing of the darkest hue, especially such clothing worn for mourning.
4.Often Black (blak) a. A member of a racial group having brown to black skin, especially one of African origin. b. An American descended from peoples of African origin having brown to black skin; an African American; an Afro-American: “Many blacks and Hispanics cannot borrow money from banks on subjective grounds” (Jesse Jackson).
5.Something that is colored black.
6.Games. a. The black-colored pieces, as in chess or checkers. b. The player using these pieces.

verb, transitive
blacked, black·ing, blacks

1.To make black: blacked their faces with charcoal.
2.To apply blacking to: blacked the stove.
3.Chiefly British. To boycott as part of a labor union action.

verb, intransitive
To become black.
— phrasal verb.
black out

1.a. To lose consciousness or memory temporarily: blacked out at the podium. b. To suppress (a fact or memory, for example) from conscious recognition: blacked out many of my wartime experiences.
2.To prohibit the dissemination of, especially by censorship: blacked out the news issuing from the rebel provinces.
3.To extinguish or conceal all lights that might help enemy aircraft find a target during an air raid.
4.To extinguish all the lights on (a stage).
5.To cause a failure of electrical power in: Storm damage blacked out much of the region.
6.a. To withhold (a televised event or program) from a broadcast area: blacked out the football game on local stations. b. To withhold a televised event or program from: will black out the entire state to increase ticket sales for the game.

— idiom.
in the black
On the credit side of a ledger; prosperous.

[Middle English blak, from Old English blæc.]

— black?ish adjective
— black?ly adverb
— black?ness noun

Usage Note: Black is often capitalized in its use to denote persons, though the lowercased form black is still widely used by authors of all races: “Together, blacks and whites can move our country beyond racism” (Whitney Moore Young, Jr.). Use of the capitalized form has the advantage of acknowledging the parallel with other ethnic groups and nationalities, such as Italian and Sioux. It can be argued that black is different from these other terms because it was derived from an adjective rather than from a proper name. However, a precedent exists for the capitalization of adjectives used to denote specific groups, as in the Reds and the Whites (of the Russian Civil War) or the Greens (the European political party). The capitalization of Black does raise ancillary problems for the treatment of the term white. Orthographic evenhandedness would seem to require the use of the uppercase form White, but this form might be taken to imply that whites constitute a single ethnic group, an issue that is certainly debatable. On the other hand, the use of the lowercase form white in the same context as the uppercase form Black will obviously raise questions as to how and why the writer has distinguished between the two groups. There is no entirely happy solution to this problem. In all likelihood, uncertainty as to the mode of styling of white has dissuaded many publications from adopting the capitalized form Black.

Excerpted from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition Copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products N.V., further reproduction and distribution restricted in accordance with the Copyright Law of the United States. All rights reserved.