The AP recently changed its style guide to capitalize the “I” in Indigenous and the “B” in Black.
This was nice to see, as both communities have been doing so on their own for quite a while now. For me, I’ve capitalized the B in Black for years, but always inconsistently. I made it a point, about a year ago, to always do so, and today I’m talking about why. Especially since I’ve been asked about it here and there.
But first, I need to touch on the identifiers Black and African American. There are different trains of thought, on which people prefer and why, but you’ll notice that Black is pretty much the standard nowadays. Since there are so many opinions on this, I’m just going to speak on why I don’t like or go by African American – why Black has always been my go-to.
I’m reminded of the James Baldwin quote: “To be African American is to be African without any memory and American without any privilege.”
Though he uses AA, this quite nicely explains how I, and I’m sure many others, feel.
I don’t think I’ve ever called myself, or really thought of myself fully as an American; not even when I’ve traveled overseas (before the Rona), and I’ve traveled a lot. When in other countries, most people don’t tend to ask me where I’m from, unless it’s an accent thing. And even then, I usually say that I LIVE in America. Semantics, sure. But It’s something that I recognize in myself, the aversion to saying that I’m American. With everything that has happened and is happening to Black people and with my own experiences, it just doesn’t feel…right.
I live in a country that is not where I originated from, where because of this, my history is unknown to me and I navigate a system that is designed to keep people who look like me and brown people at the bottom, and there’s something to be said for what that can do to someone, the rift it can cause.
I think back to young Janay, who in case you were wondering, was just as passionate and with the shits as adult Janay is – who got in trouble in school for refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance and giving my teacher a much-needed history lesson, on the ills that had befallen Black people, in this “great nation,” as they called it”
I remember doing the Thanksgiving turkey art project, that we all did with our hands, listening to the kid-friendly version of events and going up to my teacher after school and asking her why she was telling lies.
I recall teenage me, who had moved from a predominantly Black school, in a predominantly Black city, to an almost all-white school in an almost all-white city and making a fuss when the prom committee (or some other group) complained that there was going to be some rap music played (because why would their white school play rap music). As I remember it, they petitioned to have a live band instead, it didn’t happen. Rather, there was a mini protest of sorts (more like a teenage F y’all); when any non-rap song was played, the very few Black students (and some others) sat out for those songs.
My point is that I can’t think of a time where I felt like this country was truly my own. Black and brown people built much of this country, yes. Our cultures were appropriated and often commodified without consent, absolutely. So why is it any surprise that some of us have complicated feelings regarding America?
Then there’s the Afrcan part of African American. A lot of non-Black people seem to forget that because of slavery, most Black people have absolutely no idea where they come from or what culture they came from. Before anyone asks, no, it’s not enough to know that we’re from Africa. There are over 54 different countries, 3,000 ethnic groups and 2,000+ languages spoken in Africa.
I’ve had an Ancestry DNA test done, so I have a general idea of where my people came from(Cameroon, Congo, Benin/Togo, Mali, Ghana/Ivory Coast, Southern Bantu peoples), and while I am in awe of the beauty and richness of those cultures, while I absolutely love and respect and cherish those cultures, I still feel somewhat of a disconnect. There’s still so much history that has been lost and the experience of being Black in America is unique, so calling myself
African American seems almost disrespectful; as if I’m metaphorically playing dress-up.
Though I’m not truly a part of the cultures of my ancestors, no one can say that Black people are culture-less. We’ve created our own and it is rich and full and dazzling in its own right. So Black feels right. It acknowledges my contentious relationship with America, gives me space to learn and appreciate African cultures without pretending that I am nestled in it and allows me to celebrate Black culture in America.
I’m Black, with a capital B. I don’t think I could be more proud, more in love with my culture, if I tried. As one particular meme says; it’s dangerous, but it’s lit.
When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com.