Once and For All, Let's Capitalize the B in Black

Ralinda Watts
·2-min read
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For as long as I can remember, I have always capitalized the B in Black when speaking to my racial identity as a Black woman. Despite being corrected numerous times by college professors on papers I turned in, my commitment to capitalizing the B has never wavered. And because of this, I'm here to settle the cultural debate once and for all: the B in Black needs to be capitalized across the board. Here's why.

Capitalizing the B is a way for us to have agency in defining ourselves, because so much of our existence in America has been defined for us.

On Juneteenth, in the wake of America's racial reckoning, the Associated Press announced that it would officially begin to capitalize the B when referencing Black people in the context of racial, ethnic, or cultural identity. This long-overdue change, which was led by Black journalists and scholars, sought to do away with a journalistic practice set by white newsrooms that were insistent on using a lowercase b. When a lowercase b is used to describe Black identity, it implies in some way that we are less important, invisible, and not recognized as a proper noun in contrast to other racial groups that have a longstanding history of being capitalized.

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Black identity has journeyed in label and term, moving from colored to Negro to Black to African American and back to Black. Capitalizing the B is a way for us to have agency in defining ourselves, because so much of our existence in America has been defined for us. Capitalizing the B is a sign of respect and also an acknowledgment of the problematic history of utilizing lowercase, a function of systemic racism, even if it's not meant to intentionally harm. If we are to truly address this issue, the B in Black must be capitalized everywhere. Our Blackness isn't just a color; it is our identity, our culture, our community, and a shared experience that spans the diaspora.

Following this summer of protests, several news and media outlets made the decision to also capitalize the B, a symbolic measure in showing more respect to the Black community in print. For me personally, when I capitalize the B, I see it as a way to honor my grandparents (and the ancestors before them) who spent a lifetime in lowercase. They are deserving of human dignity that cannot be reduced to a single color in a box of crayons. As the national conversation on systemic racism persists, making this small change in language can have a big impact on finding common ground in the fight for racial justice. So, yes, it's OK to use Black when writing about Black identity, people, and culture - the only request is that you put some respect on the B: make it uppercase.