Caps vs. lowercase; Black and white

Hiya! This is Jeffrey Bouley. Yeah, you might note the similarity in last name with Shay Stewart-Bouley (a.k.a BGIM or Black Girl in Maine). I’m the back-end support and editor around here, and a verrrrrrry junior partner in this BGIM Media venture (as well as a co-parent, friend and former spouse of BGIM).

Normally, I like to be a silent partner. But being in the back end of this site as I often am, I had noticed the other week a comment awaiting approval that asked why, in reference to race, Black is capitalized (for the most part) around this site and white (for the most part) is not.

Well, as a guy who makes his living as a magazine editor (and occasional freelance writer) and makes a lot of judgment calls regarding style here (don’t worry; BGIM has full veto rights and I’m glad to let her have them; this is her show), I figured maybe I should pop my head out of my editorial hole and address the matter.

First, I can point you to an excellent piece titled “The Case for Black With a Capital B” and another very good piece that, while I don’t necessarily agree with, talks out the concerns related to using Black but not White, titled “Black and white: why capitalization matters.”

Second, I can promise you that nothing is ever cut-and-dried in language (yeah, it changes, and sometimes fast), and thus is never unchangeable around here at BGIM Media, either. What is general style for the site now (Black but not White) might not always be style. For example, BGIM and I are wrestling with some of the terminology around indigenous people (more on that in a moment, though), and so there might (or might not) be changes there one day.

So, why personally do BGIM and myself prefer to use “Black” for the group that has for so long in media been known as African American (and previously other terms like Afro American or Negro) and “white” for Caucasian people (itself an odd term since relatively few white people in the United States trace their ancestry to The Caucasus)?

Well, as far as Black, it’s like this: First of all, it seems that brown-skinned Americans whose roots lie generations past in Africa and mostly hail from descendants who were enslaved here in the U.S. are more apt to use “Black” than “African American” these days. As such, we want to honor and respect that seeming preference, given that this whole entire blog is about honoring and giving voice to people of color. Also, it’s how BGIM self-identifies and refers to African American people.

Also, Black people represent a clear racial category in America. From the way they look to their genetic and historical origins to the way society treats them, they are generally a single broad racial bloc in the same way that Latinx and/or Hispanic people are. The way that Asians are. Or Native Americans are. And so on.

As such, it is capitalized.

So why not go with White? Why do we chose a lowercase white instead? Is it because we hate white people around here? No, not at all.

Generally speaking, white people don’t think of themselves as white unless they are confronted with having to think of themselves in relation to other races, which they typically don’t. For the most part, white people in the U.S. simply see themselves as “people” and behave as such, while non-white people almost always have to live their lives with a knowledge that society lists them as “other” and whiteness as “normal.”

If you ask white people about their heritage or ethnicity, they will generally jump to things like Italian-American, Irish-American, etc. And often they won’t even add the “-American” part.

White people don’t generally see their whiteness as a racial or ethnic thing. And often, sadly, those who do are the kind of people who like the idea of white supremacy and think people who originate from Europe are the only civilized folks and/or the people to whom we owe everything important in arts, philosophy and science.

Also, whiteness is a social construct. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what some of you are going to say: All race concepts are social constructs; we’re all just human. Well, yes and no. As a medical and healthcare journalist I can tell you that race and ethnicity does mean some subtle and specific differences biologically for both good and ill, as well as greater or lesser susceptibility or resistance to certain conditions, medications, etc. But yes, we divide people in terms of ancestry, region of origin or color in what are artificial and often harmful and oppressive ways.

But whiteness is something special (and often awful in its social power). Whiteness has less to do with ancestry than it does with social acceptance, assimilation and visual similarity. Don’t forget that it wasn’t that far back in American history when Irish people, Italians, Catholics and many others weren’t considered white. However, as immigrants gave way to multiple generations of their descendants (and as white society realized that ethnic whites they didn’t embrace might side with other definitively non-white people against the powers-that-be), they began to be considered “white” and treated just like any other white person.

Thus, whiteness is very fluid and very subjective. Even now, I think many white people would not consider people from Eastern European nations as being truly and completely white and certainly many are on the fence as to whether to extend white privileges in U.S. society to Jewish people or not.

Whiteness, you see, can be granted or taken away, even if your skin is pink-hued. Cubans who are white-skinned are often embraced as white; those who are dark-skinned are often turned away or shunned by America and are never considered white.

People who are darker-skinned are never afforded whiteness, even if they are of mixed race (heck, even if their skin is pale but their racial ancestry is known to be connected to Black or brown people). Almost never will a biracial Black/white person be viewed as half-white. They are either half-Black or just Black to U.S. society as a whole. The closer you are to white, the more likely you can cash in on white privileges (Asian-Americans being one example), but even so, they can never fully get into the white club. And as I noted already, it is possible to be excluded from whiteness even with the palest skin if your ancestry or heritage offends American “norms.”

And yes, I used the word “club.” Whiteness has more in common with being a club than it does with actual race/ethnicity.

And so, for now at least, we will continue to use “Black” and “white” here at BGIM Media, even though journalists for the most part (and I’m one of them) are expected and encouraged to lowercase both and ideally use African American rather than black anyway.

Now, as I mentioned before, one thing we’re still working on is terminology around indigenous people. Some would capitalize it as “Indigenous People” but I do resist that, in part because it is a somewhat generic term overall that can be applied to any nation or any place. Also, from what I’ve been able to glean so far, the indigenous people of the United States seem to prefer either Native American or American Indian or switch between the two. However, if Indigenous People becomes the standard among those who are indigenous people, the style here can most certainly change.

This long-winded answer will certainly not satisfy everyone on the issue of Black and white; I and BGIM understand that. But at least it gives you a sense of why.
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Enemies in the same uniform

Today’s post comes from my co-parent, Jeff Bouley (also known as Deacon Blue online) who has gone through a couple decades of racial education (via dating and marriage and child-rearing with me) and continues the journey not just alone but still by my side a lot of days even though we aren’t a couple anymore. I asked him to share some personal thoughts (revealed in late-night drinking/yapping sessions with me in recent weeks) about how his perspective on people has changed since the election.
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The night of the 2016 presidential election was bad as I watched a rich, pampered, ego-driven, shallow, nonsense-talking reality show personality and real estate mogul gain impressive numbers of votes and wins even in states that should have known better.

The wee hours of the “morning after” as late vote counts came in and Hillary Clinton conceded the election were worse, knowing that some half of American voters had chosen a blustering, shamelessly lying, bullying, ill-informed, ignorant, thin-skinned, uncouth, bigoted, racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, etc. etc. man to be president of the United States over a woman who, whatever her flaws, was a proven and competent public servant clearly more qualified to lead a nation.

The actual “day after” when the sun was officially up and I awoke after a few hours of sleep and realized Donald Trump’s victory wasn’t a nightmare was utterly devastating.

I had never felt so hollowed out, feeling betrayed by so many of my fellow citizens who decided “real change” or “fixing the system” required throwing away our national reputation and turning back the clock on social justice gains for marginalized groups to give power to an obvious con-man.

And there was something simmering inside me—a burning aggressive energy throughout my whole body that had me on edge and prepared to literally fight.

I thought it was anger at first, but in fact I quickly realized it was something perhaps worse—because it was something that could not be as easily vented as anger. It was a grim determination and wary, anxious readiness that I can only assume is a “second cousin” to what is felt by people in the midst of major armed conflict. People who are on the battlefield; citizens trapped in cities and villages that are ravaged by civil war.

It was the activation of the “fight or flight” parts of my brain, with the full and immediate realization that there was nowhere to run—flight wasn’t an option and that meant I had to be ready to fight at any moment.

I awoke to a world in which I was surrounded by more enemies than I realized had been around me all along. Except now they were energized. They felt validated. They were empowered by the fact that their poster boy had become president-elect.

But even though I knew they were all around me in numbers so much more than I had ever imagined before, I couldn’t identify them, because they all wore the same uniform that I do.

Whiteness.

I don’t hate my whiteness. I am not wracked by so-called white guilt. However, as a person who is white I am well aware of the privilege I have from my skin color, not to mention the social advantages that come with being male, hetero and cisgendered. I am aware of the armor I wear (so light and ever-present and almost magically effective that I don’t even notice it or have to think about donning it) that almost invariably protects me from kinds of harm and mistreatment that are almost only meted to marginalized racial, ethnic, religious and sexual identity groups—and also to white women to a significant though lesser degree (though women—white or otherwise—face a greater and unique threat from rape culture and domestic abuse in this country, but I digress).

Point is, I am Caucasian and I spent more than 20 years of my life with a Black woman; we’re separated now, but Shay is still my best friend and co-parent. I have two Black children, one a grown man and the other a tween girl. I have Black in-laws. My direct and indirect involvement with Shay’s social justice and anti-racism work has added all kinds of non-white people (and non-straight and non-Christian as well) to my online circles and offline interactions. I have personally gotten to see—over and over again—how differently I can be treated by police, restaurant servers, passers-by, etc. when I am alone compared to when I am in the presence of a Black person in my family.

And now, after the election, I woke to a world full of people who clearly don’t care about Black people—whom I do care about—and these enemies to what I hold dear are all around me. It’s not like I haven’t been aware for years upon years about systemic racism, institutional racial bias and even personal racism still being nurtured in white hearts. But I hadn’t realize just how much racist animosity and bigotry was still simmering in white minds and hearts and souls just waiting to explode outward and be expressed once a man was elected president who used racially charged jargon and fanned the fires of racism to stir up support and did little if anything to speak out against white nationalists and racist hate groups who were openly supporting and endorsing him.

Trump has picked for key posts like chief strategist and attorney general men who have clearly racist histories or white nationalist/white supremacy ties that show they will not be amenable to racial equity or enforcing/advancing civil rights. Racially and religiously oriented hate crimes went up markedly right after the election, many of them committed in Trump’s name specifically. Shay herself experienced a disturbingly aggressive racially bigoted exchange just a few days after the election in the most liberal city in our all-too-white state of Maine—my beloved ex-wife in the crosshairs. Many in her professional and social circles of people of color have talked about similar experiences they have gone through or that have affected their friends or relatives.

And so I am in a kind of war zone. Overnight, a civil war was silently and implicitly declared in which a huge portion of America—specifically, white people, who turned out in a majority for Trump across all gender, age, income and educational demographics—decided they “want their country back.” Who want people who aren’t white and/or Christian “back in their place.” Who are proud, whether they know it or admit it, that they are part of a group of people that conquer and oppress and push down people who aren’t white to keep a stranglehold on power, money and opportunities. Who see nothing wrong with the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Black people because that’s in the past (ignoring the fact both still have substantial effects in the modern day) and because white people won “fair and square.”

Somehow, bringing our society closer to equality (though we’re still far from that goal) made them feel they were “losing” and that being more fair to other groups was giving those people “special rights.”

And they reacted by naming a man to be president who has made it clear he sees Black people, Latinx people and Muslim people in particular as damaged, dangerous, problematic and lesser. They have reacted with either indifference to increased violence and risks faced by marginalized groups of people or have reacted with verbal and/or physical violence toward them.

I am surrounded by enemies who want to hurt or disenfranchise (or both) people I care about and people whom the people I love care about, too. And I cannot identify most of them because their uniform is the same as mine and many of the people like-minded to me. White.

I go out of the house now with the clear knowledge that easily a quarter of the people around me (maybe even half or more sometimes) are enemies to me and to the people I love. Knowing that while I may be protected by my own whiteness that my Black loved ones are not. That people in my circles of friends, associates and acquaintances who are Black (or Latinx, or LGBTQ, or Muslim) are at higher risk.

That, in fact, I myself am at increased risk in a sense because I may have to physically protect those people from harm by people who wear my same uniform—that white skin.

I won’t know the enemies until they reveal themselves. Perhaps by telling a racist joke to me that only a few weeks or months ago people would have been ashamed or afraid to tell to a stranger. Perhaps by expressing to me how much better America will be under Trump. Perhaps by actually threatening or attacking my ex-wife or one of my children.

To some degree, I suppose I’m getting a small and slightly analogous taste of what Black people go through every day: Walking out the door and never knowing how many racialized things they will endure. Will it “just” be the microaggressions or will it be something more overt and perhaps dangerous? Knowing that they cannot shed the very brown skin that marks them as racial targets every moment of every day.

In that respect, though, I’m still protected. I may go out hyper-aware that my fellow whitefolk may do bigoted things in my presence and I may have to react to that, but the people who hail a new American social order under Trump and hope for gains in white supremacy look at me and probably mostly see a potential ally. I wear the same white-skinned uniform as them and they likely assume that I am an ally until proved otherwise.

But I cannot afford to see the people around me who share my uniform of whiteness as allies. For the sake and the safety of those I love, I now have to view every white person at every moment as a potential enemy, particularly when my Black loved ones are with me.

And thus a part of myself is murdered. One of the first acts of violence in the wake of the Trump victory was to kill most of the hope I had that America was progressing—far too little over the decades and far too slowly, but still moving forward. No more do I have that feeling. I can only see risks and dangers for my family from potentially half the people around us, and wonder when the forward progress will begin again.

And how many decades it will take us to get back to a place where I feel I can let down my guard and not be looking for the next enemy at all times.
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And the ignorant shall lead him (to victory)

Today’s post comes by way of Jeffrey Bouley who, as you might guess from the last name, is my co-parent (and editor of most things BGIM). He went on a bit of a Twitter and Facebook tear in the days immediately following the election, so I figured I’d recruit him to write about white people, class issues and the blind spot regarding Trump.
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Watching the U.S. presidential elections into the wee hours (I switched off the TV once Hillary Clinton had conceded and Mike Pence was about to take the stage, lest I break something), I was dismayed. Disheartened. Distressed. Disappointed. Hell, pick a few other “dis” words.

However, I won’t say I was surprised. It’s not like I was predicting a Donald Trump victory, but neither was it totally unexpected. I always knew there were enough frightened, clueless, gullible, prejudiced and/or strongly conservative Americans—white Americans mostly—to give him the edge if they turned out in sufficient numbers.

And give him the edge they did, with the help of a majority of white women. Now, that surprised me. It’s not that I don’t think many white women will side with their race’s concerns (whiteness) before their gender’s concerns (feminsism)—they will and they do—but given how foul Trump’s misogyny is (including ogling underaged women and boasting about sexual assault), I figured they’d rather have their first woman president than a crude and vulgar pussy-grabber-in-chief. I was wrong.

What was also astonishing to me was how white people across the board, regardless of class or educational level, fell out to support Trump. He got a majority of the white vote across all demographics. Mind you, with a Black co-parent, two Black kids and plenty of meals and Sundays with Black in-laws, I’m fully aware there is a huge amount of racism in this country, from the personal kind to systemic racism to institutional bias. I just didn’t realize how much worse it was than I had ever imagined. That that many white people would rally to a man who’s fanned the flames of bigotry toward so many groups, not just Black and Latinx/Hispanic people but also Muslims or people from anywhere near a Muslim nation and LGBTQ folks, among others.

This all confused me in particular because regardless of whatever haze of suspicion and mistrust there was around Clinton, she was consistently the most articulate and commanding in the debates, she has far more experience in the things presidents need to know, she doesn’t sexually assault or sexually objectify people, she’s calm and level-headed, and so much more. I’m not a Hillary Clinton fan, but I recognize that she was the clearly better choice between them. Among other things, Trump was consistently and verifiably the most dishonest person by far among all the candidates from the primaries to election day, and his business/political dealings are at least as shady, if not more so, than Clinton’s. She might be evasive, but he was outright pathologically dishonest and making things up and being caught at it constantly. She might not be warm and friendly, but he’s a hothead, thin-skinned dissent-crushing orange bully with no tact.

So why did even the college-educated white people mostly tilt his way? I get that the working-class/blue collar types are angry and looking for a savior (though the levels at which some of them abandoned the Democrats shocked me) and I know that poor whites have long been easily led down the path (or go down it willingly without encouragement) toward blaming any group of “other,” be they Black, Muslim, Mexican or whomever. But even the white people who theoretically have broader awareness of the “high-fallutin” stuff that pisses off so many blue-collar and poor folks (and I come from blue-collar parents and a whole host of blue/pink collar extended family) were undeterred from the many, many, many traits and behaviors of Trump’s that make him a dangerous, divisive, volatile choice for president.

So what the hell happened?

I know I tried to get a handle on that online, not just from reading but from interacting with some folks who voted for Trump, and it comes down to this: Ignorance.

The blind spots people have toward Trump vary, but it all comes down to ignorance in my opinion.

Let’s break down the major Trump supporters:

The chronically ignorant: These are the loudest people you saw at Trump rallies and the ones who were happy to manhandle any person who was anti-Trump or perceived to be, especially if they were Black. These chronically ignorant people are the ones who simply don’t care about facts. No matter how much obvious truth you give them, no matter how irrefutable the info, they will ignore it. They say Trump didn’t say something and you show them a recording, and they still dismiss it. Show them proof of his racism, his instability, his lack of knowledge about almost any issue, and they will tell you it’s lies, no matter how trustworthy or nonpartisan the source. These people cannot be reached, because reality, logic and common sense are rejected in favor of believing Trump is the smartest, most successful, most unifying person in the world.

The willfully ignorant: These are the people who can theoretically be swayed one day, but you have to catch them in a very open and receptive moment. These people, if you point them toward truth, will avoid reading it because they know it might pop their happy bubble about Trump and force them to self-examine. That’s painful, and they want to remain in their comfortable fantasy world where Trump will fix things and where he’s presidential somehow, so they will avoid listening to you too closely and they will not answer questions when cornered that would force them to admit you’re right that Trump is a vile buffoon.

The blissfully ignorant: These people just don’t know what they don’t know and don’t know they need to know it. They think because Trump is wealthy, he must be a good businessman, when in fact he started with his father’s money, has performed worse than if he had simply invested his money in the market, has a multitude of failed businesses, and is really just good at manipulating tax loopholes and bankruptcy law. They think the women claiming sexual abuse are lying because it doesn’t occur to them how risky it can be to accuse your abuser, especially when he is powerful, rich and connected. They don’t see his racism, because they assume he’s right about the vast majority of Black people being poor, desperate denizens of the “inner city” (or rural South)—he isn’t, but the many working class and professional Black people are invisible to them and they don’t realize the true risks faced by most Black people overall aren’t gangs and drugs. It’s possible to get these people the knowledge they need to open their eyes, but it’s hard work, and even once you get them on the path, you often have to hold their hand the entire way to keep them from veering back to more familiar and comfortable beliefs that are farther from truth.

Now, these three groups alone might not have given Trump his win, and almost certainly wouldn’t have given him such strong numbers across all socioeconomic groups of white people.

So who tipped the scales so strongly in his favor? These folks:

The dangerously ignorant: These are the people who simply “held their noses” while voting for Trump. In looking at people’s posts and interacting with them and trying to sort out how Trump fared so well despite being so vile a person, I am convinced these people are responsible for his win ultimately.

These are the people who didn’t have some accidental blind spot with Trump. They deliberately put on blinders. These are people who had one or two big issues of concern (composition of the Supreme Court, illegal immigration, bringing back manufacturing jobs, etc.) and believed Trump could deliver on those one or two issues. Or they are sick of the status quo and the “establishment” and just wanted to shake things up. They know and understand how unqualified he is to lead and admit to his many faults. They acknowledge that he is a horrid person. They might even admit Clinton was more suited to the Oval Office. But they deliberately voted for Trump knowing he would be a hot mess and potentially horrible for this country because of their very specific concerns and/or their desire to “energize some change.”

And that’s why they are dangerous. They are—and I have used this example frequently online lately—the people who are willing to burn down the entire house to kill a few big, scary spiders they saw.

Or they are the guy you might have known when you were in high school or college who would come over and suddenly decide it would be cool to smash in your TV screen because he wants to see if sparks will fly out and shit. And then wonders why you’re mad, because the TV was old and cheap anyway.

But why, you might ask, are they ignorant? Dangerous, sure, you might say, but ignorant? They know how terrible Trump is, after all. They aren’t blind to his faults. They don’t like him.

But that’s just it. The willingness to put an entire nation at risk for a handful of concerns is itself ignorant. These are people who are willing to sacrifice Black, Latinx and Muslim people if it means less pain for themselves or solutions to a few of their problems. They are willing to risk having an unstable man in charge of our military on the hope that it will all turn out all right.

And that hope, too, is ignorance. They make a wild throw of the dice knowing the consequences are likely to be bad but no longer caring.

The irony is that their hope isn’t entirely misplaced. As white people, they will fare better than everyone else under Trump. They are likely to be able to hide in their bubbles and not think too hard about what they’ve done until he’s gone from office.

But in their shallow, self-centered, purposeful, calculated ignorance, they have decided they don’t care what any marginalized, minority and/or non-mainstream group will face under Trump or accept that the long-term consequences of their vote will almost certainly outweigh their short-term gains.

And that, I think, is why Trump won. And everyone else but white people lost (though, to be honest, he’s probably gonna screw most of them over too…it’s just they’ll mostly find a way to make other groups the scapegoat after the fact).
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If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.