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A Debate Over Identity and Race Asks, Are African-Americans ‘Black’ or ‘black’?

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tags: racism, language, African American history, ethnicity



It’s the difference between black and Black. A longtime push by African-American scholars and writers to capitalize the word black in the context of race has gained widespread acceptance in recent weeks and unleashed a deep debate over identity, race and power.

Hundreds of news organizations over the past month have changed their style to Black in reference to the race of people, including The Associated Press, long considered an influential arbiter of journalism style. Far more than a typographical change, the move is part of a generations-old struggle over how best to refer to those who trace their ancestry to Africa.

The capitalization of black, which has been pushed for years, strikes at deeper questions over the treatment of people of African descent, who were stripped of their identities and enslaved in centuries past, and whose struggles to become fully accepted as part of the American experience continue to this day.

“Blackness fundamentally shapes any core part of any black person’s life in the U.S. context, and really around the world,” said Brittney Cooper, an associate professor at Rutgers University whose latest book, “Eloquent Rage,” explores black feminism. “In the choice to capitalize, we are paying homage to a history with a very particular kind of political engagement.”

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The move toward Black is not embraced by all African-Americans, and two of the country’s major news outlets, The New York Times and The Washington Post, are still wrestling over whether to make the change.

“Black is a color,” said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the longtime civil rights leader who popularized the term “African-American” in an effort to highlight the cultural heritage of those with ancestral ties to Africa. “We built the country through the African slave trade. African-American acknowledges that. Any term that emphasizes the color and not the heritage separates us from our heritage.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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