Abraham Joshua Heschel walks with Martin Luther King Jr. on civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Courtesy of the American Jewish Archives

Abraham Joshua Heschel walks with Martin Luther King Jr. on civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Courtesy of the American Jewish Archives

Arthur the AmeriNZ sent me an article about the new Speaker of the Nevada state assembly, Ira Hansen, and notes: “This guy obviously endorses the current Republican meme about how the relationship of blacks and the Democratic Party is akin to that of master and slave. I’d love to see your take on that, um, interesting propaganda point.”

Specifically: “[Hansen] wrote that African-Americans are insufficiently grateful for being given their freedom: ‘The lack of gratitude and the deliberate ignoring of white history in relation to eliminating slavery is a disgrace that Negro leaders should own up to.'”

And from this story: “The relationship of Negroes and Democrats is truly a master-slave relationship, with the benevolent master knowing what’s best for his simple minded darkies.”

Lessee, what do I think? (Roger works mightily to rein in his sarcasm…)

1. I do recall the national Republican party in the past few years giving at least lip service to the idea that the party needs to be more inclusive. To that end, Hansen is a big FAIL.

2. We’ve been “celebrating” the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War for over three years in this country, and the (very imperfect) narrative that Lincoln freed the slaves, the war was fought to free the slaves, has been front and center. What the heck is he talking about?

2a. Virtually all progress toward freedoms for black people in the United States has involved white people, from the slave owner who freed their “property” upon death, to the abolitionists of the 19th century, to the activists before World War II, to the Freedom Riders in the 1960s, some of whom died for the cause. Truman desegregating the armed forces. Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights and Voting Acts, which have been undercut in recent years. Hansen’s argument is a fiction, of course.

3. I could buy the idea that the Republican party stood for “freedom” if so many of their votes and policies haven’t been to disempower the poor and middle class and restrict choices (except when it comes to guns).

4. Goodness knows that the Democratic party in the United States is corporatist, and that President Obama is likewise. But maybe a smidgen less than the Republicans, which is why blacks still tend to vote Democratic.

But I really zeroed in on Hansen’s use of the word Negro, which apparently he often fails to capitalize. I happened upon this recent New York Times article about racial designation.

Between 1850 and 1920, the United States census classified those of African descent as black, negro, mulatto, quadroon or octoroon — depending on the visual assessment of the census taker. By 1930, the Census Bureau offered just one of these categories: negro…

(I LOVE that 1890 census. Seriously.)

In the mid-1920s, W. E. B. Du Bois began a letter-writing campaign, demanding that book publishers, newspaper editors and magazines capitalize the N in Negro when referring to Black people.

While initially resistant, many mainstream publications accepted the request, “including The Atlantic Monthly and, eventually, The New York Times.”

The article is pushing for the B in Black to be capitalized, as it is a designation of the race. I know this argument rather well, having written a paper for a college sociology class in New Paltz c. 1974; the paper was “corrected” for not capitalizing black, er, Black. This is one of those issues where I just don’t much care one way or another. I get the point, I suppose, but with substantial issues of racism that still exists, it just doesn’t resonate much with me.

An older article describes whether black should be used as noun or adjective. Given my long-stated disdain for “African-American” as narrow and inaccurate, I’m not much bothered by the noun use.

4 Responses to “Black with a capital B?”

  • Greg Burgas says:

    “Rein,” not “reign.” I know, it’s completely beside the point, but I also know you want to know these things.

    As for that guy … man. I just don’t know what to say. It’s a good thing racism doesn’t exist anymore, isn’t it?

  • CGHill says:

    Given my own curious mindset, were I to capitalize Black, I would feel compelled to capitalize White, and to me, “White” in that context looks funny.

  • ADD says:

    John Byrne always capitalizes “Black,” which is more than enough evidence to me that it shouldn’t be capitalized.

  • Thanks for taking that on! I often feel odd doing so myself. Anyway, I think I always use a Capital “B” when referring to Black people (though I can’t be sure). In general, I tend to think that people ought to be called what they WANT to be called—on race as so many other social divisions. I still struggle with this.

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