I have switched back and forth over the years. With this new awakening, however, I shall begin capitalizing the “B” when referring to Black people as if I’m doing so for the first time. Moreover, I shall do so pursuant not to an order from the style Nazi, but to the legacy of George Floyd.
Capitalizing the ‘B’ when referring to Black people might not seem like a big deal. However, when editors at The New York Times, USA Today, and the Columbia Journalism Review all make a big deal of their change in style, it’s worthy of comment.
Here is how the Times announced and rationalized its (belated) conversion:
“We believe this style best conveys elements of shared history and identity, and reflects our goal to be respectful of all the people and communities we cover,” said Dean Baquet, The Times’s executive editor…
The Times also looked at whether to capitalize “white” and “brown” in reference to race, but “both will remain lowercase [and] white doesn’t represent a shared culture and history in the way Black does, and also has long been capitalized by hate groups.” (The New York Times, July 5, 2020.)
(Editor’s note: The Florida Courier has always capitalized “Black” and any other ‘color’ when it refers to race.)
But you’d be forgiven for finding me a little schizophrenic in this respect. Because when referencing Black people throughout this weblog, I have probably capitalized as often as not.
As it happened, I began this “black-vs-Black” preference where that Times has now ended up. In other words, I used to always capitalize the “B” word.
Following her lead
But the woman who introduced me to blogging 15 years ago was a style Nazi. So, like a virgin, I thought it best to just follow her lead, which in all matters of style adhered strictly to the Chicago Manual of Style.
Accordingly, I soon learned that Chicago mandates lowercase for both black and white people, period! No discrimination. The irony was not lost on me.
That explains why I have switched back and forth over the years. With this new awakening, however, I shall begin capitalizing the “B” when referring to Black people as if I’m doing so for the first time. Moreover, I shall do so pursuant not to an order from the style Nazi, but to the legacy of George Floyd.
Who’s really killing Blacks?
Apropos of his legacy, though, one need only scan today’s headlines to decry the number of Blacks who die in vain every day in America.
Frankly, when it comes to what most menaces Black communities, White cops killing Black men has nothing on Black men killing other Black men, women, and children (like Secoriea Turner, 8, in Atlanta; Royta De’Marco Giles, 8, in Hoover, Ala., Davon McNeal, 11, in Washington, D.C.; and Natalia Wallace, 7, in Chicago just last weekend). Such Black-on-Black crime grieves and bewilders me beyond words.
A developing legacy
But the killing of George Floyd is creating a legacy that might make a little sense of those senseless deaths. That legacy already includes:
• cities removing Confederate flags and statues;
• police officers getting arrested like common criminals for behaving like them;
• cities moving ahead of Congress to reform police departments (the “defund the police”
• “Black Lives Matter” slogan becoming so mainstream it adorns the plaza outside the White House;
• Walmart stops selling guns;
• Everyone from corporate CEOs to university professors, and hysterical “Karens” losing
their jobs for tweeting or getting caught on tape exhibiting once acceptable racist behavior;
• Juneteenth heading for a national holiday;
• NASCAR banning Confederate flag;
• HBO purging racist films like “Gone With The Wind” from archives; and
• NFL commissioner chanting “Black lives matter” and apologizing for dissing Colin Kaepernick.
And now this: mainstream media capitalizing the “B.” Because, as the father of race-consciousness in Black America, W.E.B. DuBois, would surely say, continuing to small letter Black folks would constitute a racial insult.
Make the demand
But frankly, after 400 years of Whites capitalizing on White privilege in every facet of daily life, to say nothing of that 200-plus years of slave labor, Blacks should seize this awakening to demand reparations.
Here too, the killing of George Floyd has made this demand tenable. Nothing indicates this quite like Black Obama hater and Trump lover Bob Johnson not only jumping on the bandwagon, but going on Fox News to trumpet it:
Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson elaborated on his call for the payment of $14 trillion in reparations to African-Americans…
“It is an atonement for 200-plus years of slavery, segregation, Jim Crowism, and the denial of people opportunity rights. … [U]nless White America recognizes the need for reparations to atone for this, this country will always be … ‘separate and unequal’.’” (Fox News, June 1, 2020.)
Of course, we see that separate-and-unequal legacy in the disparate impact Covid-19 is having on Black Americans.
My previous opposition
That said, I’m obliged here to confess my own awakening. Because I have written many commentaries opposing reparations. They range from “CARICOM’s Fatally Flawed Demand for Reparations for African Slavery,” posted on February 16, 2007, to “Juneteenth and the Holy Grail of Reparations for Slavery,” posted on June 19, 2019.
But I see no point in a full confessional. Instead I shall suffice to note that the killing of George Floyd got Mitt Romney, an old White U.S. senator from Utah, to march on the White House along with anti-racism protesters shouting, “Black lives matter.” Therefore, it hardly seems a stretch that it would get me to change my views on reparations, no?
We are living through the most consequential times in race relations since the Civil War. And yes, the racial conversion many political and business leaders are having seems more forced by public opinion than inspired by personal conviction.
Doing the right thing
Whatever the motivation, they all seem desperate to get on the right side of history. And, if it moves them to do the right thing (e.g., voting for reparations or affirmatively hiring Blacks), that’s really all that matters right now. Hearts and minds will follow.
Anthony L. Hall is a native of The Bahamas with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at www.theipinionsjournal.com. Click
on this commentary at www.flcourier.com to write your own response.