[personal profile] teaoli
Thought I'd take a quick moment to post on the B-word. Not the b-word, but the B-word. The one I'm talking about probably isn't the one you're thinking of. But that's neither here nor there because I'm talking about Black when referring to racial identity, and even though it might not matter to a lot of people, it matters enough to me to for me to not only always expect the B to be capitalised, but for me to also have noticed that it's apparently a bone of contention for some.

Quite a while back, during a discussion on [livejournal.com profile] fanficrants, as often occurs on that comm, a side thread developed: this one happened to be about using an initial capital when spelling Black-as-a-racial-identifier. The two (or was it three?) participants in the thread both held that it didn't make sense to use the capital because "black is a proper noun" and "didn't originate from a country name". (Although I've used quotation marks here, I'm paraphrasing. I don't remember the topic of the original rant or who posted it, and since none of the participants responded to my explanation/argument for using the capital, I don't have record in notifs or in email.)

As noted in the parenthetical above, I did respond to the thread with an explanation. Although that was probably at least a year ago and the topic hasn't come up again (as far as I know), I thought I'd repeat my explanation here. For good measure, I'm going to do that with a lot more force than I wrote it there.

I'm American. The United States of America is supposedly (as much of the Americas are supposedly) a giant "melting pot" of races, ethnicities and ancestral countries. However, as a person of pre-American-Slave-Emancipation African descent, I can't point to a particular country or tribe (or to particular countries or tribes) to note my particular brand of Americaness.

Now, if we were truly living in a post-racial society, I mightn't think that was a problem under most circumstances. But since we're not living in that Fantasyland of Colourblind Goodness, I often need — whether it be for emotional, political or sociological reasons — to identify myself beyond using American without the qualifier. I'm not a fan of "African American" because the term, as most often used by my fellow Americans and others, excludes Africans who are not Black and because to be honest, I just don't find the term to be definitive enough.

An even bigger reason for me to dislike "African American" is that the term is a constant reminder of what I pointed out above: since my African ancestors didn't come to this continent by choice and weren't allowed to share their histories with their descendants, I can't point to the tribes and countries they came from and claim that as my ancestry.

It's not uncommon in the U.S. to leave off the "American" when talking to other Americans about the places from whence one's ancestors come. I've got friends who claim to be "German" who never set foot in Germany and whose ancestors have all been American for five or more generations. Fine. I can claim my Irish ancestors and my Cherokee and Lenape ancestors, and I can use initial capitals whilst doing it. Most people aren't going correct me for claiming their names as my own (although many others will and have).

But, where does that leave me with regards to my most obvious heritage? Should my Blackness be forced into the ghetto of all-lowercase letters just because my Black ancestors had their histories — and their futures, if you want to be honest — stolen from them?

Fuck no!

I'm Capital-B-Black because no one living knows exactly who I can claim from Africa. Since I can't claim a particular ethnicity from that continent, Black has become my ethnicity and my cultural background, as well as my race. In other words, there isn't another way for me to give equal weight to those stolen peoples as I do to my other ancestors.

Simple enough, yes?

You don't have to agree that I'm right, but I don't want to hear it if your only argument against my case is one of the reasons I listed above. I don't think the descendants of those stolen peoples should be the only ones who acknowledge that, but I'm not going to condemn someone else for choosing not to use the capital. Just don't fucking say it "doesn't make sense" for me to use it. Because it Makes. Fucking. Sense. if you snatch your head out of your arse long enough to see my history isn't your history, but my ancestry deserves to be given just as much weight as that of someone who doesn't descend from one or many stolen people(s).
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teaoli

November 2012

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