- Abi Adamson
Normalise capitalising the “B” in Black when talking about race.
I know that many people are only just waking up to acknowledging and accepting that racism is still very much alive in the world - especially those that live in the UK. Slowly, people are having conversations that they were either too scared or too uncomfortable to have regarding race. So, I appreciate this is another thing people are going to have to learn but it’s just as important and definitely shouldn’t be overlooked.
I have been asked a few times if the adjective Black should be capitalised in the context of racial identity and my answer is abso-damn-lutely! We capitalise Native and Latinx when talking about race so why not Black?!
Some people (Black included) might be more relaxed about using a capital “B” when talking about Black people so this a quick reading piece for everyone irrespective of what your race might be.
Capitalising “B” to represent Black people should not be a typographical oversight as doing this means you’re overlooking the people that we have collectively come to be.
There’s so much weight in the power of language when we read and write, and the history of language is partly what solidified Black people as bottom of the barrel citizens (or whatever came last).
To give a brief history of what I mean, the fate of how Black people identify themselves has always been left down to White people to juggle however they see fit.
The Pew Research Centre noted “Black people have gone from ‘Slaves’ (1790) to ‘black’ (1850) to ‘negro’ (1900) to ‘Negro’ (1930) to ‘Negro or Black’ (1970) to ‘Black or Negro’ (1980).”
In an 1878 editorial titled “Spell it with a Capital,” Ferdinand Lee Barnett, the founder of a weekly newspaper that entered around Black issues (similar to The Voice in the UK), highlighted “that the failure of white people to capitalise “Negro” was to show disrespect to, stigmatise, and ‘fasten a badge of inferiority’ on Black people.” It was there to remind us of our place in society.
Throughout history a lot of powerful western countries didn’t even want to put salutations in front of a name when addressing Black people thus continuing to dehumanise them. This is why reclaiming language that acts as a positive catalyst about the identity of Black people, has been an important part of the struggle for racial justice.
We need to remember that Black with a capital B refers to people of the African and Caribbean diaspora, one whose existence has historically been plagued by oppression and worse, erasure. Lowercase B refers to the actual colour, like a crayon.
Black people have overcome some extraordinary times throughout history and a lowercase “b” doesn’t represent that. There’s nothing lowercase about what we have achieved over the past 400 years and what we continue to achieve today. In the middle of police officers keeling on our necks and Amy Coopers using our skin complexion as weapons, still we rise. The lowercase ‘b’ indicates that we’re small and have no weight behind us.
I ask you to look around you and to inhale what’s been happening over the past few months. Does that seem lower case to you? When the social media posts showing solidarity with Black struggle start to quieten down and the hashtags are no longer trending, Black people will still face enormous adversities.
Black people have moved mountains when all the odds have been stacked against us and there’s absolutely nothing small about the what we have contributed to the world. Whether it’s in sports, economics, literature, media or just the right to walk into a store without being followed, we’re continuing to break oppressive barriers and we’ve certainly earned the right to have our identity capitalised.