Black people deserve capital ‘B’
'Black' should be a proper noun and capitalized when referring to race; Compton Herald was ahead of the curve years ago
(Re-print from Aug. 14, 2017)
By JARRETTE FELLOWS, JR.
Normally, the word “black” is an adjective — a descriptive term that modifies a noun. In journalism, black should be a noun when referred to as an ethnic term, i.e. Black American (a race) like African American.
Lower casing the “b” is demeaning when used in a sentence referenced with other ethnic groups, for example — Asian American, Latino American, Native American … black American — the only reference lower cased in a succession of racial identifiers. This should have been corrected long ago. Certainly, in Black-owned media, Black American should have been a proper noun out of sheer pride.
The lower case spelling is accepted journalistic style by the majority of media — print, digital, and broadcast, but to the chagrin of Blacks in America, it is truly unacceptable.
Compton Herald always saw it that way
The policy always has been a discomfort with me where justification is based on the reference as “descriptive” — an adjective where black modifies “American,” as in, the American is black. It always bothered this writer in conformance to the hackneyed style of journalism news writing. It was self-deprecating to uphold a norm in which I referred to myself and ethnic group in the lower case.
Publishing my own print mediums through the years enabled me to break with standard tradition, capitalizing the “B” in Black when referring to the race. I didn’t care who disagreed with it. This was going to be my policy.
The proper noun Black American or plural noun Blacks replaced “colored,” and Negro American within the Black community as a racial distinction in the 1960s, and today is used interchangeably with African American. This should have been embraced long ago by the top three journalism bibles of the craft — Associated Press, Chicago, and Oxford style guides — for proper usage by journalists when referring to an ethnic group in print.
Equitable policy style
By the same token, the policy is adopted for the Herald when referring to White American, as well. The “W” is always capitalized. Caucasian, like Negro or colored, is also rarely used in print or broadcast journalism.
Some African American-owned publications — but not all — use the same policy when referring to Black Americans, but lowercase the “w” in White-American or Whites. This is a double standard along purely racial lines that should be eradicated.
Ultimately, the style guides AP, Chicago, Oxford, and all the others, including the dictionaries Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, Oxford, and Free Dictionary should adopt this editorial policy. Additionally, it would also serve to balance the overall negative connotation for black.
Consider the following negative references as an adjective:
“His face was black with rage; the play was a black intrigue, dirty, soiled hands black with grime, a wicked black deed, a black mark for being late, black despair, black propaganda, black humor, sullen black resentment filled his heart, Black Friday, “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” connected with the devil; black magic, the black arts.”