Friday, July 22, 2022

Why Blacks are Uppercased

The Princeton Alumni Weekly magazine explains:
If you read the story in PAW’s September issue about history professor Jacob Dlamini, you might have noticed an curious editorial convention: When we used the word “Black” to describe a community or someone’s race, we used uppercase — but we lowercased “white.” In a letter to the editor published in November, Bruce C. Johnson ’74 asked why: “I would have thought rules of grammatical consistency and considerations of racial equality would have indicated treating the two terms the same and capitalizing both or neither. Is there a grammatical rule at work here of which I was unaware?”
That was not enough, so it got a Black professor to elaborate.

Carolyn Rouse writes:

If we wanted to do more to fully represent the subjectivity of the people we are writing about we would have to open ourselves up to more, not fewer, style variations. The new demand to complicate pronoun usage is a case in point. Just as the racial descriptor “Black” has been adopted to highlight the inescapability of structural racism, the pronoun debate is asking for the de-essentialization of sex and gender.
This doesn't make much sense. So Black is capitalized to highlight racism? And that is somehow like switching pronoun usage?

The word black just emphasizes the obvious skin color. The pronoun is some weirdo preferance that can be different from appearance.

Racism is often translated as “misrecognition.” By this I mean that culturally competent members of society playfully signify who they are through their dress, consumption, work, aesthetics, and speech. Racists, however, refuse to — or cannot — read the cultural performances of those they hate. They misrecognize the other. The debates around whether or not to capitalize the “b” in “Black,” the “w” in “White,” or the “b” in “Brown” when identifying someone’s race strikes me as a concern with cultural competence and misrecognition. The person who uses the current capitalization, “Black,” does so in order not to be seen as a racist given the zeitgeist. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of history by writing “black” instead of “Black” or (God forbid) “African American” (how 1990s!). And who wants to be blown up by a Twitter terrorist who identifies you as a closeted White supremacist because you used a “W” rather than a “w”? The stakes of misrecognition have become too high across the political spectrum, so perhaps there are more productive ways for a writer to express their novel ideas rather than insisting on “White”?
I think I am starting to get it. Blacks are taking over. Blacks are cool. White supremacists would use uppercase W. Getting this capitalization wrong is like putting a knee on George Floyd's neck.

At least she didn't try to claim that Whites have no ethnic identity or culture.

Perhaps it’s time to use all the racial descriptors: Negro, Afro-American, Colored People, People of Color, BIPOC, Black, black, African American, and of course Nigerian/Ghanaian/Jamaican American, and so on. ... They are also all associated with different negative stereotypes, accretions built up over time with use. But these accretions can also be helpful when trying to describe negative racialized experiences. Even the taboo use of the plural “Blacks” is perfect when identifying Blacks for Trump.
All those terms are negative? And the plural "Blacks" is not to be used unless describing Trump supporters? Weird.

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