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 pub­li­ca­tion I’ve worked for 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 per­haps sub­tly dis­tin­guished between those good African Amer­i­cans who worked with­in in the sys­tem from those dan­ger­ous rad­i­cals talk­ing about Black Pow­er and repa­ra­tions.

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, “oh wasn’t that ter­ri­ble but you know there were Irish slaves too”). 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’s name 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.

Upcoming FJ submission: “Quaker Spaces”

I've been meaning to get more into the habit of sharing upcoming Friends Journal issue themes. We started focusing on themed issues back around 2012 as a way to bring some diversity to our subject matter and help encourage Friends to talk about topics that weren't as regularly-covered.

One of the Greenwich, N.J., Meetinghouses.

One of the Greenwich, N.J., meetinghouses, Sept 2009

The next issue we're looking to fill is a topic I find interesting: Quaker Spaces. I've joked internally that we could call it "Meetinghouse Porn," and while we already have some beautiful illustrations lined up, I think there's a real chance at juicy Quaker theology in this issue as well.

One of my pet theories is that since we downplay creeds, we talk theology in the minutia of our meetinghouses. Not officially of course—our worship spaces are neutral, unconsecrated, empty buildings. But as Helen Kobek wrote in our March issue on "Disabilities and Inclusion," we all need physical accommodations and these provide templates to express our values. Earlier Friends expressed a theology that distrusted forms by developing an architectural style devoid of crosses, steeples. The classic meetinghouse looks like a barn, the most down-to-early humble architectural form a northern English sheepherders could imagine.

But theologies shift. As Friends assimilated, some started taking on other forms and Methodist-like meetinghouse (even sometimes daringly called churches) started popping up. Modern meetinghouses might have big plate glass windows looking out over a forest, a nod to our contemporary worship of nature or they might be in a converted house in a down-and-out neighborhood to show our love of social justice.

Top photo is a framed picture of the Lancaster U.K. Meetinghouse from the early 20th century--long benches lined up end to end, balcony. By the time of my visit, there were cushioned independent chairs arranged in a circle.
Top photo is of a framed picture of the Lancaster UK Meetinghouse from the early 20th century--long benches lined up the length of the space. By the time of my visit in 2003, the balcony was gone and the few remaining benches were relegated to an outer ring outside of cushioned chairs arranged in a circle surrounding a round table with flowers and copies of Faith and Practice.

But it's not just the outsides where theology shows up. All of the classic Northeastern U.S. meetinghouses had rows of benches facing forward, with elevated fencing benches reserved for the Quaker elders. A theologically-infused distrust of this model has led many a meeting to rearrange the pews into a more circular arrangement. Sometimes someone will sneak something into the middle of the space—flowers, or a Bible or hymnal—as if in recognition that they don't find the emptiness of the Quaker form sufficient. If asked, most of these decisions will be explained away in a light-hearted manner but it's hard for me to believe there isn't at least an unconscious nod to theology in some of the choices.

I'd love to hear stories of Friends negotiating the meeting space. Has the desire to build or move a meetinghouse solidified or divided your meeting? Do you share the space with other groups, or rent it out during the week? If so, how have you decided on the groups that can use it? Have you bickered over the details of a space. Here in the Northeast, there are many tales of meetings coming close to schism over the question of replacing ancient horsehair bench cushions, but I'm sure there are considerations and debates to be had over the form of folding chairs.

You can find out more about submitting to this or any other upcoming issue our the Friends Journal Submissions page. Other upcoming issues are "Crossing Cultures" and "Social Media and Technology."

Aug 2016: Quaker Spaces

What do our architecture, interior design, and meetinghouse locations say about our theology and our work in the world? Quakers don’t consecrate our worship spaces but there’s a strong pull of nostalgia that brings people into our historic buildings and an undeniable energy to innovative Quaker spaces. How do our physical manifestations keep us grounded or keep us from sharing the “Quaker gospel” more widely? Submissions due 5/2/2016.

Spiritual Biodiversity and Religious Inevitability

Emi­grants from the Irish pota­to famine, via Wikipedia

Peo­ple some­times get pret­ty worked up about con­vinc­ing each oth­er of an mat­ter of press­ing impor­tance. We think we have The Answer about The Issue and that if we just repeat our­selves loud enough and often enough the obvi­ous­ness of our posi­tion will win out. It becomes our duty, in fact, to repeat it loud and often. If we hap­pen to wear down the oppo­si­tion so much that they with­draw from our com­pan­ion­ship or fel­low­ship, all the bet­ter, as we’ve achieved a pati­na of uni­ty. Reli­gious lib­er­als are just as prone to this as the con­ser­v­a­tives.

The­se are not the val­ues we hold when talk­ing about the nat­u­ral world. There we talk about bio­di­ver­si­ty. We don’t cheer when a species mal­adapt­ed to the human-driven Anthro­pocene dis­ap­pears into extinc­tion. Just because a plant or ani­mal from the oth­er side of the world has no nat­u­ral preda­tors doesn’t mean our local species should be super­seded.

Sci­en­tists tell us that bio­di­ver­si­ty is not just a kind of do-unto-others val­ue that sat­is­fies our sense of nos­tal­gia; hav­ing wide gene pools comes in handy when near-instant adap­ta­tion is need­ed in respon­se to mas­sive habi­tat stress. Monocrops are good for the annu­al har­vest but leave us espe­cial­ly vul­ner­a­ble when phy­toph­tho­ra infes­tans comes ashore.

It’s a good thing for dif­fer­ent reli­gious groups to have dif­fer­ent val­ues, both from us us and from one anoth­er. There are pres­sures in today’s cul­ture to lev­el all of our dis­tinc­tives down so that we have no unique iden­ti­ty. Some cheer this monocrop­ping of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, but I’m not sure it’s healthy for human race. If our reli­gious val­ues are some­how truer or more valu­able than those of oth­er peo­ple, then they will even­tu­al­ly spread them­selves – not by push­ing oth­er bod­ies to be like us, but by attract­ing the mem­bers of the oth­er bod­ies to join with us.

God may have pur­pose in fel­low­ships that act dif­fer­ent­ly that ours. Let us not get too smug about our own inevitabil­i­ty that we for­get to share our­selves with those with whom we dif­fer.

One writer’s take on G+ via +N

One writer’s take on G+ via +N. Jean­ne Burns. Makes me think I should do a bit more curat­ing os shar­ing groups: http://​inky​girl​.com/​i​n​k​y​g​i​r​l​-​m​a​i​n​/​2​0​1​1​/​7​/​9​/​w​h​y​-​i​m​-​l​o​v​i​n​g​-​g​o​o​g​l​e​-​p​e​r​s​p​e​c​t​i​v​e​-​o​f​-​a​-​w​r​i​t​e​r​-​i​l​l​u​s​t​r​a​t​o​r​-​m​u​s​.​h​tml

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The Early Blogging Days

I started Nonviolence.org in late 1995 as a place to publicize the work of the US peace movement which was not getting out to a wide (or a young) audience. I built and maintained the websites of a few dozen hosted groups (including the War Resisters League, Fellowship of Reconciliation and Pax Christi USA) but I quickly realized that the Nonviolence.org homepage itself could be used for more than just as a place to put links to member groups. I could use it to highlight the articles I thought should get more publicity, whether on or off the Nonviolence.org domain.

The homepage adapted into what is now a recognizable blog format on November 13, 1997 when I re-named the homepage "Nonviolence Web Upfront" and started posting links to interesting articles from Nonviolence.org member groups. In response to a comment the other day I wondered how that fit in with the evolution of blogging. I was shocked to learn from Wikipedia's that the term "weblog" wasn't coined until December of that year. I think is less a coincidence than a confirmation that many of us were trying to figure out a format for sharing the web with others.

The earliest edition stored on Archive.org is from December 4, 1997. It focused on the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day. To give you an sense of the early independently-published articles, the January 2, 1998 edition included a guest piece by John Steitz, "Is the Nonviolence Web a Movement Half-Way House" that sounds eerily similar to recent discussions on Quaker Ranter.

Below is an excerpt from the email announcement for "Nonviolence Web Upfront" (typically for me, I sent it out after I had been running the new format for awhile):

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NONVIOLENCE WEB NEWS, by Martin Kelley Week of December 29, 1997

CONTENTS

Introducing "Nonviolence Web Upfront"

New Procedures
New Website #1: SERPAJ
New Website #2: Stop the Cassini Flyby
Two Awards
Numbers Available Upon Request
Weekly Visitor Counts

With my travelling and holiday schedule, it's been hard to keep regular NVWeb News updates coming along, but it's been a great month and there's a lot. I'm especially proud of the continuing evolution of what I'm now calling "Nonviolence Web Upfront," seen by 1800-2200 people a month!

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INTRODUCING "NONVIOLENCE WEB UPFRONT"

The new magazine format of the NVWeb's homepage has been needing a name. It needed to mentioned the "Nonviolence Web" and I wanted it to imply that it was the site's homepage (sometimes referred to as a "frontpage") and that it contained material taken from the sites of the NVWeb.

So the name is "Nonviolence Web Upfront" and a trip to http://www.nonviolence.org will see that spelled out big on top of the weekly-updated articles.

There's also an archive of the weekly installments found at the bottom of NVWeb Upfront. It's quite a good collection already!

Now that this is moving forward, I encourage everyone to think about how they might contribute articles. If you write an interesting opinion piece, essay, or story that you think would fit, send it along to me. For example, "War Toys: Re-Action-ist Figures" FOR's Vincent Romano's piece from the Nov. 27 edition, was an essay he had already written and made a good complimentary piece for the YouthPeace Week special. But don't worry about themes: NVWeb Upfront is meant not only to be timely but to show the breadth of the nonviolence movement, so send your pieces along!

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Avoiding Plain Dress Designer Clothing

A guest piece by “David,” orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on the Plain and Mod­est Dress Yahoo Group.

From: “mquadd” <mquadd@y…>
Date: Wed Jul 21, 2004
Sub­ject: Intro­duc­tion and ques­tions

Hi. My name is David and I attend but am not a mem­ber of the Friends Meet­ing here. I was actu­al­ly raised as an Epis­co­palian although I had sev­er­al uncles who were birth-right Quak­ers. I grew up (for my first 10 years) in Chester Coun­ty, PA which tra­di­tion­al­ly was an area with a high con­cen­tra­tion of Quak­ers. I would expect that this is no longer true as the area has become quite sub­ur­ban with a big influx of new res­i­dents. Nonethe­less, I grew up attend­ing meet­ing now and then with rel­a­tives at var­i­ous meet­ings in Chester Coun­ty and north­ern Dele­ware. That was in the 1960s and was a time when some peo­ple, most­ly old­er peo­ple (peo­ple most like­ly born in the 1800s mean­ing the­se peo­ple were in their 70s or 80s in the 1960s), still used plain talk. Even in the 1960s, in a fair­ly rural area, this was more of an except­ing than the rule and was lim­it­ed to the old­est mem­bers of the meet­ing and nev­er used out­side the Quak­er com­mu­ni­ty. Those who used plain talk nev­er used it out­side of the Quak­er com­mu­ni­ty – home, Friends, and meet­ing. As far as I know, they nev­er used this type of talk for busi­ness or rela­tions or out­side the com­mu­ni­ty.

At age 10 we moved to Lan­cast­er Coun­ty. At that time, many Mem­monites who now no longer dress plain or wear cov­er­ings did still did both of the­se. I went to school with many Men­non­ite kids. In addi­tion I became friends with sev­er­al Old Order Amish fam­i­lies (and one Beachy fam­i­ly) with whom I am still friends. That was 35 years ago, I have wit­nessed the plain tes­ti­mony weak­en in each of the­se groups includ­ing the Old Order Amish. I actu­al­ly spent much of my child­hood and teenage years hang­ing out with one patic­u­lar Old Order Amish fam­i­ly as way to escape the insan­i­ty of hav­ing drug addict­ed and alco­holic par­ents. In their very sim­ple and unstat­ed Chris­tian­i­ty, they were very will­ing to provide food, shel­ter, and love to a very con­fused boy (me).

Any­way, the Lan­cast­er Con­fer­ence Men­non­ites (now part of the largest Men­non­ite group) seem to be total­ly main­stream. Per­haps there are some who still fol­low the for­mer order. The Beachy Amish now dress like con­ser­v­a­tive Men­non­ites and less and less like Amish. Final­ly, I was watched the Amish allow lots of mod­ern changes in their dis­ci­pline although their basic cloth­ing is pret­ty much unchanged but sun glass­es are now allowed and many Amish girls and wom­en pluck their eye­brows – both not allowed in the 1970s. By the way, in the late 1960s they had already adopt­ed cotton-poly blends for both cloth­ing and quilts!

The rea­son for that, per­haps odd, bio­graph­i­cal sketch is to give some back­ground on my expo­sure to plain groups and, more impor­tant­ly, plain thought. I have toyed with the idea of plain dress­ing although I can’t give a clear rea­son why I feel this. Is it a call­ing or am I just crazy? I do know that the sta­bil­i­ty I found in that Amish house in the 1970s most like­ly had a giant influ­ence on me (a hap­py Amish fam­i­ly where I had fun vs. liv­ing in a fam­i­ly that was in the self-distruct mode due to addic­tion). I also I have clear mem­o­ries of hav­ing Quak­er teach­ers in ele­ment­ly school and van­i­ty and world­li­ness was a bad thing. It was dur­ing the height of the Viet Nam war, so there was this odd hippy-Quaker thing going on with some of my teach­ers. I am sure some of you who were around the RSF in the 1960s can relate. So here I am still toy­ing with the­se ideas and still attempt­ing to define my own reli­gious feel­ings at the mid­dle of my life (I am 45).

Here are a few things I do know that apply to me. First, I feel very at odds with our soci­ety that focus­es on the most superf­i­cal things. Our soci­ety spends BILLIONS on make-up, hair dye, plas­tic surgery, breast inplants, push-up bras, design­er clothes (that are no dif­fer­ent that basic clothes except the label and might even be of low­er qual­i­ty).… Peo­ple are judged on the the­se issues. Char­ac­ter and moral­i­ty (a load­ed term that seems to have been high­jacked by the rightwing and ultraconservatives)seems to be sec­ondary to the­se very super­fi­cial things. What we tell our­selves and our chil­dren is that we are not ade­quate as we are. We have to change our body and then drape it was over­ly priced clothes to count. The out­side is more impor­tant that the inside. This is sick. It is dis­truc­tive. It is a sin.

Beyond that, my feel­ings about plain dress­ing get less clear. Is a uni­form what I am seek­ing? Those groups who were very uni­form cloth­ing tend to be insu­lar and often attact as much atten­tion to them­selves as a bel­ly shirt and design­er jeans! If you doubt this, go to Lan­cast­er Coun­ty and attempt to dri­ve on Rt. 340. The attrac­tion that the plain peo­ple attract in that area rivals any movie star or rock con­cert. Lan­cast­er gets lit­er­al­ly mil­lions of tourists each year. So is that type of uni­form dress­ing that is quite dis­tinct serv­ing a good pur­pose? I am not sure but am just offer­ing a ques­tion rather than a judge­ment. Oth­er groups that dress quite plain such as ultra-orthodox Jews are not so much a tourist attrac­tion but clear­ly are insu­lar and seper­ate from the larg­er soci­ety. Many peo­ple view this as being “stand off-ish” which I hope is nobody’s goal. I have heard peo­ple apply this type of judge­ment to plain chris­tian groups also.

So, I would be very inter­est­ed in hear­ing what dri­ves oth­ers to dress plain? If you are a Quak­er, what has been the reac­tion at your meet­ing? I once met a plain dress­ing Quak­er who said that he had received more neg­a­tive than pos­i­tive reac­tions when vis­it­ing oth­er meet­ings. Are there any meet­ings where all or most mem­bers dress plain? In my child­hood expe­ri­ences, there was no plain dress­ing in any Quak­er meet­ings in Chester Coun­ty or in Dele­ware. I have not even run into any­one who uses plain lan­guage for over 30 years except that one plain dress­ing man. Clear­ly, I know no Quak­ers who have been raised with the idea of plain dress­ing or plain lan­guage includ­ing some of my cousins who are world­ly to say the least. What makes plain. I know of “black bumper Men­non­ites” who dri­ve a black bumper Mer­cedes. Is that plain? Why is a Volvo often con­sid­ered ok but a BMW is bad? They both cost $40K. Often I see this type of think­ing in those who claim to fol­low a less than world­ly life style. I think there is always a risk of falling into the mind­set of some labels being good and oth­ers being bad. Once a par­tic­u­lar brand, say a type of hat or type of jeans, is thought to be the prop­er “plain uni­form” does that not become the designed cloth­ing of the plain dressers? I am not sure. What I find is that once you jump into this top­ic, it becomes com­pli­cat­ed and that is not the point.

One final ques­tion, what ben­e­fits do you recieve from plain dress­ing?
Thanks. David