Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Capitalization of racial colors

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I capitalize quite a few words, and tendentially more as time goes by, including Democrat/Republican,* Liberal**, Conservative**, Feminist***, and various nationalities**** (e.g. Swede and German). Sometimes, I follow standard use; sometimes, I do not; sometimes, there is no true standard. (The reader is encouraged to check this text for various uses of capital letters, even outside first-letter-of-a-sentence.)

*The U.S. party belongings, to differ them from the more general words denoting attitudes towards forms of government and whatnot.

**The ideologies, as opposed to everyday meanings.

***Originally, probably, by analogy with something else.

****As per standard conventions in English.

This includes “White” and “Black”, when I intend the racial groupings—not the actual color. (Contrast e.g. “White man” and “white boat”. As can be seen from the footnotes above, disambiguation is often the cause.)

I have some concerns about the appropriateness of these terms based on e.g. the difference between claimed and actual skin color, and questions like how to handle e.g. black or dark-skinned people who are not of African descent—should e.g. some Indian or Australian groups be considered Black, despite not being African? Ditto the paradox that many Asians are whiter than “White” Europeans.

Only very recently, have I become aware that even capitalization can be an issue, if often for idiotic reasons. Much of the linked-to page boils down to a conflict over whether those who use capital-B
“Black” should also use capital-W “White”. (A question that by any reasonable standard should have the answers “yes”, for reasons of consistency, just like we have “Monday and Tuesday”, not “monday and Tuesday”.)

For instance, it quotes the “Washington Post” as saying “Stories involving race show that White also represents a distinct cultural identity in the United States”, to support its recent decision to capitalize both words, while “Associated Press” and “Columbia Journalism Review”, apparently, has a capital-B-only policy.

Several (mostly incoherent) tweets are quoted, including one claiming “[…] or it* could imply White Power, White Pride, etc, which makes me very uncomfortable.”

*From context, the capital-W.

Both the concerns around identity, be it cultural or racial, and “White Power” should be entirely irrelevant to the question of capitalization:

The former refers to something highly arbitrary and ever-changing, which makes it entirely unsuitable as a criterion. It could, for instance, lead to situations where Pat Buchanan was born white, because there were no “White” cultural identity at the time, and by now having turned White, because such an identity would now exist. We might then, in the atrocious style of Wikipedia, find claims like “A White man, Pat Buchanan was born to white parents. Originally a white baby, he began turning White in 1982.”. For instance, we might find that capital-B is eventually unacceptable because the “Black” identity fractures too much over time. (Indeed, even now, it can be disputed both whether e.g. Obama, a Black Bronx-kid, an elderly Alabama Black, and a first-generation immigrant from the Ivory Coast, have that much of a common culture, identity, or whatnot, and whether any related identity would be “natural” or imposed by propaganda.) For instance, it leaves open how to handle those who carry the outward signs, but do not share this identity.* Moreover, this would leave a great deal to arbitrary judgment and a danger of abuse through Leftist tolkningsföreträde.

*By this standard would Rachel Dolezal be White or white, or would she even be white and Black. Is an “Oreo” black or Black, or even black and White. Etc.

The latter would involve both a dropping of context* and open doors wide open for misinterpretation, even of a deliberate kind: “Hey, he used a capital-W. Now we know that he is a White supremacist—no further proof needed!”.

*Consider e.g. the drop of modifiers from “discrimination” (say, “sexual discrimination”), which has led to a severe distortion of meaning, or the ridiculous abuse of “chauvinist” to mean e.g. “misogynist”, instead of “nationalist”, based on the analogy expression “male chauvinist” and the later dropping of “male”.

Two simple rules:

If you do use capital-B, then capital-W is mandatory. (And vice versa.)

Whether you do, is up to you, but I recommend it for reasons of disambiguation and disambiguation only—to differ colors from groups and entities named based on colors.*

*This not restricted to racial groupings. For instance, if we have a tournament between teams identified by color, it would usually make more sense to e.g. speak of “the White goalkeeper”, “a Blue forward”, “the Green team”, etc. (And, yes, the White goalkeeper might very well be a Black man, but that should be beside the point in this context.)

As a corollary: Never assume anything more than disambiguation from this type of capitalization.

Note on quotation marks:
I have deliberately left out quotation marks on a good many places where they normally belong. This, in part, to avoid cluttering; in part, because of a problem of interpretation and expression: Everyone writes “Black” with a capital “B”, and saying e.g “Spell ‘Black’ with a capital ‘B’!” would be tautological and uninteresting. If it is not spelled with a capital “B”, it is not “Black”, but “black”. (Or “Slack”, “Alack”, whatnot, depending on how the capital “B” is avoided.) The latter complication has also led to use of “capital-W” and “capital-B” above.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 9, 2020 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

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