The NYT asks: Are African-Americans ‘Black’ or ‘black’?
I capitalize “Black” when I refer to Africans or members of the African diaspora because I am not referring to a color but a singular group, which makes it a proper noun:
A proper noun is a noun that identifies a single entity and is used to refer to that entity, such as London, Jupiter, Sarah, or Microsoft, as distinguished from a common noun, which is a noun that refers to a class of entities (city, planet, person, corporation)
I say African-American when I’m talking heritage, Black when I’m talking about identity and culture. Black music. African-American history. Black speech. African-American families. I would avoid describing a person as Black unless they chose that themself. Otherwise I would default to African-American.
What am I?
First, European or Belgian. Second, American. My father, who was born in a British-occupied part of Africa to a Belgian father and ethnically French mother herself born in a British territory in Africa, categorized himself as European. My mother was born in North Carolina to White parents one generation removed from Germany, fled north for good when she hit 18, and thought of herself as American.
Last, and unavoidably, White, with a capital.
I am not the color white. The dominant color of my skin is pink. Most White people are pink. I have very light patches which are white and tan patches which are reddish or light brown.
The NYT again:
So far, most news organizations have declined to capitalize white, generally arguing that it is an identifier of skin color, not shared experience, and that white supremacist groups have adopted that convention. But some scholars say that to write “Black” but not “White” is to give white people a pass on seeing themselves as a race and recognizing all the privileges they get from it.
We White people like to think we are the default. We have no race. It is others who have race.
But Whiteness did not exist before the invention of Blackness. We Europeans made race for our benefit, then assigned it to others. For White people to accept responsibility, we have to accept being racialized. The prison we made holds us too.
The color white symbolizes holiness, purity, virtue. I have no more claim to these than anybody else. There is no reason for me to think I was born into them.
White identity is problematic because only full-bore supremacists like the KKK embrace it explicitly. Oops. As it turns out, small-bore supremacists have it too.