Black with a capital B

It’s been a long-running debate in edi­to­ri­al cir­cles: whether to cap­i­tal­ize ‘black’ and ‘white’ in print pub­li­ca­tions when refer­ring to groups of peo­ple. I remem­ber dis­cus­sions about it in the ear­ly 1990s when I worked as a graph­ic design­er at a (large­ly White) pro­gres­sive pub­lish­ing house. My offi­cial, stylesheet-sanctioned answer has been con­sis­tent in every pub­li­ca­tions since then: low­er­case. But I remain unsat­is­fied.

Cap­i­tal­iza­tion has lots of built-in quirks. In gen­er­al, we cap­i­tal­ize only when names come from prop­er nouns and don’t con­cern our­selves about mis­match­es. We can write about “frogs and sala­man­ders and Fowler’s toads” or “dis­eases such as can­cer or Alzheimer’s.” Reli­gious terms are even trick­ier: there’s the Gospel of Luke that is part of the gospel of Christ. In my Quak­er work, it’s sur­pris­ing how often I have to go into a exe­ge­sis of intent over whether the writer is talk­ing about a capital-L divine Light or a more gener­ic lower-case light­ness of being. “Black” and “white” are both clear­ly low­er­cased when they refer to col­ors and most style guides have kept it that way for race.

But seri­ous­ly? We’re talk­ing about more than col­or when we use it as a racial des­ig­na­tion. This is also iden­ti­ty. Does it real­ly make sense to write about South Cen­tral L.A. and talk about its “Kore­ans, Lati­nos, and blacks?” The counter-argument says that if cap­i­tal­ize Black, what then with White. Con­sis­ten­cy is good and they should pre­sum­ably match, except for the real­i­ty check: White­ness in Amer­i­ca has his­tor­i­cal­ly been a catch-all for non-coloredness. Dif­fer­ent groups are con­sid­ered white in dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances; many of the most-proudly White eth­nic­i­ties now were col­ored a cen­tu­ry ago. Much of the swampier side of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics has been rein­forc­ing racial iden­ti­ty so that out-of-work Whites (code­name: “work­ing class”) will vote for the inter­ests of White bil­lion­aires rather than out-of-work peo­ple of col­or (code­name: “poor”) who share every­thing but their mela­ton­in lev­el. All iden­ti­ties are incom­plete and sur­pris­ing­ly flu­id when applied at the indi­vid­u­al lev­el, but few are as non-specific as “White” as a racial des­ig­na­tion.

Back in the 1990s we could dodge the ques­tion a bit. The style guide for my cur­rent pub­li­ca­tion notes “lc, but sub­sti­tute ‘African Amer­i­can’ in most con­texts.” Many pro­gres­sive style sheets back in the day gave sim­i­lar advice. In the ebb and flow of pre­ferred iden­ti­ty nomen­cla­ture, African Amer­i­can was trend­ing as the more polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect des­ig­na­tion, helped along by a strong endorse­ment from Jesse Jack­son. Black wasn’t quite fol­low­ing the way of Negro into obso­les­cence, but the avail­abil­i­ty of an clear­ly cap­i­tal­ized alter­na­tive gave white pro­gres­sives an easy dodge. The terms also sub­tly dis­tin­guished between those good African Amer­i­cans who worked with­in in the sys­tem from those bad rad­i­cals talk­ing about Black Pow­er.

The Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment has brought Black back as the polit­i­cal­ly bold­er word. Today it feels sharper and less coy than African Amer­i­can. It’s the bet­ter punch line for a thou­sand voic­es shout­ing ris­ing up out­side the governor’s man­sion. We’ve arrived at the point where African Amer­i­can feels kind of stilt­ed. It’s as if we’ve been try­ing a bit too hard to nor­mal­ize cen­turies of slav­ery. We’ve got our Irish Amer­i­cans with their green St Paddy’s day beer, the Ital­ian Amer­i­cans with their pas­ta and the African Amer­i­cans with their music and… oh yes, that unfor­tu­nate slav­ery thing. All of the­se iden­ti­ties scan the same in the big old melt­ing pot of Amer­i­ca. It’s fine for the broad sweep of his­to­ry of a muse­um but feels cold­ly inad­e­quate when we’re watch­ing a hash­tag trend for yet anoth­er Black per­son shot on the street. When the mega­phone crack­les out “Whose lives mat­ter?!?” the answer is “Black Lives Mat­ter!” and you know every­one in the crowd is shout­ing the first word with a cap­i­tal B.

Turn­ing to Google: The Columbia Jour­nal­ism Review has a nice piece on the nuances involved in cap­i­tal­iza­tion, “Black and white: why cap­i­tal­iza­tion mat­ters.” This 2000 lec­ture abstract by Robert S. Wachal flat-out states that “the fail­ure to cap­i­tal­ize Black when it is syn­ony­mous with African Amer­i­can is a mat­ter of unin­tend­ed racism,” deli­cious­ly adding “to put the best pos­si­ble face on it.” In 2014, The NYTimes pub­lished Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty prof Lori L. Tharps ’s con­vinc­ing argu­ment, “The Case for Black With a Cap­i­tal B.” If you want to go his­tor­i­cal, this thread on shift­ing terms by Ken Greeen­wald on a 2004 Word­wiz­ard forum is pure gold.

And with that I’ll open up the com­ment thread.

Seeing how it goes

It seems a lot of con­ver­sa­tions I’m in the­se days, on social media and IRL revolve around how we should be respond­ing to Trump’s elec­tion. I know there’s a cer­tain dan­ger in being too deter­min­is­tic, but a lot of answers seem to match where indi­vid­u­als are in the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty scale. Some are coun­sel­ing patience: let’s see how it goes after the inau­gu­ra­tion. May­be we don’t know the real Don­ald Trump.

Well, I think we do know the real Trump by now, but what I don’t think we know is the actu­al fla­vor of a Trump pres­i­den­cy. Have we ever seen a pres­i­dent elect who was so thin on actu­al pol­i­cy? Trump rode his lack of pol­i­cy expe­ri­ence to vic­to­ry, of course, cit­ing his inde­pen­dence from the peo­ple who gov­ern as one of his chief qual­i­fi­ca­tions. But it’s also his per­son­al­i­ty: on the cam­paign trail and in his famous 3am tweets from the toi­let he often con­tra­dict­ed him­self.

He’s a man of high-concept ideas, not detailed pol­i­cy. This means the actu­al poli­cies – and the gov­er­nance we should and shouldn’t wor­ry about – will depend dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly on the peo­ple he hires. Right now it seems like he’s trolling lob­by­ists and a hand­ful of neo­con dinosaurs that start­ed the Iraq War on forged doc­u­ments. He’s bring­ing the alli­ga­tors in to “drain the swamp” and in the last 24 hours they’ve already sig­naled that a lot of key cam­paign pledges are open for recon­sid­er­a­tion. How much we have to wor­ry – and just what we have to wor­ry about – will be clear­er as his team assem­bles.

Waking up to President Trump

Bar­ring a very improb­a­ble series of events we will more than like­ly be look­ing at Pres­i­dent Trump once the num­bers have been tal­lied overnight. And not just him but a rad­i­cal­ized Trumpian Con­gress, Sen­ate — and because of the suc­cess­ful stonewalling again­st Obama’s nom­i­na­tion — Supre­me Court. We’ve not just elect­ed an author­i­tar­i­an: we’ve also tak­en away the entire sys­tem of checks and bal­ances that might be able to hold him back. Add to that the expan­sion of the raw pow­er of the exec­u­tive branch in recent years and it’s the setup for a dystopi­an TV show.

We’ve seen seem­ing­ly sta­ble coun­tries fall apart under con­di­tions like this. We claim Amer­i­can excep­tion­al­ism but his­to­ry is lit­tered with the corpses of democ­ra­cies that didn’t make it. This will be the biggest test of our civic val­ues in our life­times. We might well expe­ri­ence things the Amer­i­can repub­lic has nev­er seen: the impris­on­ment of a los­ing oppo­si­tion lead­er, the rise of orga­nized hate crimes, whole­sale theft of incred­i­ble wealth by a new oli­garchy, the divy­ing up of the world back into empires… The mod­el of a kind of alt right soft dic­ta­tor­ship is well devel­oped by this point and Trump has been clear through­out both his career and his can­di­da­cy that it’s his vision.

We do not get to choose our era or the chal­lenges it throws at us. Only some­one with his­tor­i­cal amne­sia would say this is unprece­dent­ed in our his­to­ry. The enslave­ment of mil­lions and the geno­cide of mil­lions more are dark stains indeli­bly soaked into the very found­ing of the nation. But much will change, par­tic­u­lar­ly our naiv­i­ty and false opti­mism in an inevitable for­ward pro­gress of our nation­al sto­ry. We must respond with courage and grace. We’re going to get a lesson in what’s real­ly impor­tant. Time to engage.

Autism, anxiety, and bullies

A pub­lic ser­vice announce­ment from my wife Julie ear­lier this evening:

Autis­tic peo­ple feel anx­i­ety just like all of us. How­ev­er they may cope dif­fer­ent­ly. For neu­rotyp­i­cals, if the anx­i­ety is a result of some­one taunt­ing or being some­how rude or abra­sive or annoy­ing, we know to walk away. But in my expe­ri­ence with my spec­trum kids, they don’t under­stand why peo­ple are mean, and they’ll freak out or just keep com­ing back for more. They don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly get that it’s best to leave some peo­ple alone and walk away. It takes many such lessons to “get it” because their minds work dif­fer­ent­ly. They go from the speci­fic to the gen­er­al, not the gen­er­al to the speci­fic, as Tem­ple Grand­in points out. They are easy tar­gets for bul­lies. #The­MoreY­ouKnowAboutAutism

Post-Evangelical Blogging for Dummies: Harnessing the Zeitgeist for Fun and Prophet

Post-Evangelical Blog­ging for Dum­mies: Har­ness­ing the Zeit­geist for Fun and Prophet :

The Hip­ster Con­ser­v­a­tive writes the defin­i­tive guide. This is a bit close for com­fort but we’re sup­posed to be able to laugh at our­selves, right?

Explain the per­son­al con­flict you expe­ri­ence between your evan­gel­i­cal roots and what you now tru­ly believe is a dev­as­tat­ing chal­lenge to those formerly-held beliefs. Sug­gest that instead of being so quick to oppose the issue, Chris­tians should extend “grace” (don’t define) and a “gen­er­ous respon­se.” Above all, they should “re-evaluate” their views in light of this chal­lenge. Remem­ber: “Ques­tion­ing” is a one-way street.

Via my wife Julie (of course)

Cleaning Services Guide, E-Book

Office Managers Guide to Best Cleaning ServiceA local client from Taber­na­cle in Burling­ton Coun­ty came to me with an inter­est­ing project. He’s owned a com­mer­cial clean­ing com­pa­ny for a num­ber of years and has heard his share of hor­ror sto­ries about the clean­ing ser­vices clients hired before find­ing him! This expe­ri­ence led him to write a PDF e-book about how to hire the right clean­ing ser­vice. What a great idea and a what a use­ful book this is for small busi­ness own­ers.

The site’s on a bit of a bud­get so it’s a sim­ple design, with col­ors and gen­er­al look-and-feel bor­rowed from a site the client likes. Sim­ple edit­ing comes via Cushy­CMS. When cus­tomers click to buy, they are sent to Pay­pal for the actu­al trans­ac­tion and then for­ward­ed to E-Junkie, which pro­vides the auto­mat­ed and inte­grat­ed PDF down­load.

Vis­it the site: Office Manager’s Guide to Hir­ing the Best Clean­ing Ser­vice