capitalization, re-send

Lisa Rogers eqwq.lrogers at
Wed Oct 25 10:29:55 MDT 1995

Will someone explain to me why Black is capitalized but not white?
This is a stylistic tic that I see in lots of left writing. Staffers
at the Guardian and Crossroads couldn't explain to me why they did it
- they just did it.

I have heard that it was originally demanded by some black people, in
keeping with the evolution from Negro to Coloured to Black to
Afro-american, etc. The point being that the capitalization made it
look and sound more respectful, title-like, while "white" already had
power and respect assigned to it by this culture.  Of course, one of
the problems with any label or any word is that it changes meaning. 
The standard of "politeness" changes, so some now favor Afro-am, to
be in parallel with other now-common uses such as  Chinese-am,
Korean-am, even Euro-am, etc. (Is Mex-am still considered polite?  I
hear that some hispanic people hate that word too.)

Originally, idiot, moron and imbecile were newly invented [unladen],
"polite", "scientific" categories to refer to people of various IQs. 
With usage, these all became demonized, as people used them to "call
names", to call somebody "stupid".  Now it is unthinkable to use
these terms to refer to those who truly are not capable of learning,
behaving and functioning in certain respects.  Then it was "mentally
retarded"; anybody remember when that term was _not_ pejorative?  It
was quite "proper" at one time.  

Now the "polite" terms [probably recognizable to all who have taught
school below college level within the last 10 years] are
"intellectually handicapped", "very IH", "extremely IH" [or something
like that], as well as "high functioning" [i.e. able to perform
certain jobs, group home possible] and "low functioning" [24-hour
supervision for life].

I tend not to capitalize "black", or white, or anything.  I think the
presence or absence of racism in one's papers, positions and person,
is revealed or not by many other more important things than keeping
up with the latest, or passe' capitalization.  Plus, it's getting
more confusing all the time.  

Some indigenous north americans hate the term "native american",
because it is hypocritical to invent an honorific name for them while
they are still suffering continual assault from euro-invaders.  They
say the mis-nomer "Indian" is a more true expression of their
condition today, as a continuation of the abuse that began with
Columbus.  "Aboriginal" means indigenous, but usage has associated
"aborigenes" with indigenous australians in particular.  Indigenous
is more accurate in meaning than "native" because "native" also means
"born here", as my five or six generations of ancestors have been,
since the original invaders landed on the Atlantic coast.  I think
indigenous is not yet recognized by many people, but it could become
so, and it's the best word I can think of, other than what someone
asks to be called/spelled, such as my Dine' [formerly Navajo]
acquaintances.  [Of course, if/when 'indigenous' becomes a dirty word
we'll have to switch again...]

And B/blacks?  Afro-am is certainly not univerally adopted, some use
the two terms interchangeably.  Then there's "people of color" which
I think is intended to be more inclusive than "black" but more
positive than "non-white".  [Although my confused old auntie mixed
"people of color" with "colored", so even when she's really _trying_
to be modern and polite... ]

The most polite thing to do, I suppose, is to call a person whatever
they like to be called.  I also prefer "black person"  or
"whatever-description person", when just "hispanic" might seem
essentialist, but it is easy to fall back to just "white"
because it is shorter than "white person".  

Of course, I don't believe in any of it, really.  I mean I know that
"race" exists as a "real" social construct, and we must have some
vocabulary to use in talking about it.  But I don't think anybody
here sees "race" any other way.

Truth be told, I'm not really white, more of a speckled light tan.  


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