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Alonzo Weston

Alonzo Weston

The word “Black” has always seemed problematic for some people. Many Black people in the past accustomed to hearing “negro” or “colored” had problems being called “Black” in the 1960s. My mother still prefers to use “negro” to identify people of African descent.

From “Black” we went to “African American” to “people of color,” which is really going back to “colored people.”

I suppose the race identifier has to do with what generation you grew up in or where you’re from. I have relatives in rural towns who still use “colored.”

If you were brought up with “negro,” you still prefer that. I was brought up in the 1960s era of James Brown’s “Say it Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud,” so I identify with “Black.”

Imagine how confusing that must be for some whites who are wondering what identifier to use in any given situation. Even many Blacks, including myself, can’t keep up with the changes.

Some whites have a problem with the word “black” itself, it seems. As a news reporter and columnist, any time I used the word “black” in a story or column, some people would automatically call what I wrote racist just based on that one word. I could be talking about a “black” cat or a “black” night and not reading the context of what I had written. Some people just seeing the word would dismiss what I wrote as a racist rant or diatribe. I take that as proof that some people only read what they want to read into something. If you’re looking for racism, you’ll find it, even if it’s not there.

Last week, a reader took me to task because in my last column I capitalized the word Black but lowercased the word white. They accused me of being racist because of that.

I explained that it was an Associated Press style point. The new practice gained national attention on June 9 this year when the Los Angeles Times announced the adoption of its house style of a capital “B” when “referring to people who are part of the African diaspora.”

Soon after, other national and international publications, including USA Today, The New York Times, the Associated Press, even FOX News adopted the standard.

Black publications like Ebony and Essence have long capitalized the ”B,” and the Seattle Times and Boston Globe already had introduced the practice into their style guides.

Each publication defended its decision on the grounds of equality. As USA Today explained, the practice places the word on “equal footing with other ethno-racial identifiers. Black is the same kind of label as Chinese or Celtic.

The Associated Press stated that “Black” conveys “an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community.”

But author Nicholas Whittaker wrote in The Drift, a publication of culture and politics, that we shouldn’t capitalize “black.”

“Behind the push to capitalize is the desire to define blackness, and it is a desire that I think we should be wary of,” he wrote. “Any major conventional shift ought to be interrogated for its motivations and implications.”

The people who anguish over the capitalization of Black and not white ignore the many slights worse than this that Blacks have endured through the years.

Personally, I think Black and white both should be capitalized in this already divisive society that looks for anything, no matter how small and inconsequential, to fight about. But AP style is the bible and guide for news writers, and I have to follow suit regardless of my personal beliefs.

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