I am a human being.
But according to Canadian media, I'm just an adjective - a descriptor, a colour, 'black' not 'Black.'
You see, in all of the inches written about Black Lives Matter Toronto and Black people in Canada, from CBC to the Toronto Star to Maclean's to NOW Magazine, the 'B' in 'Black people' is always in lowercase.
New Canadian Media, a news site dedicated to Canadian immigrants, recently released its Ethnic Media & Diversity Style Guide. Their coordinators did not feel it was necessary to acknowledge the humanity of Black people by capitalizing the B.
"Capitalize the proper names of nationalities, peoples, races and tribes," the guide reads. "Ex. Aboriginal peoples, Arab, Caucasian, French-Canadian, Inuit, Jew, Latin, Negro, Asian, Cree. Note that black and white do not name races and are therefore lowercase."
The Canadian Press StyleBook, the journalist's bible, advises the same: "black (prefer to Negro)."
'Negro' is a pejorative name for Black people, and not the name that Black people use to identify themselves.
Since August 20, 1619, when the first enslaved African set foot on Canadian shores, Black people in Canada have been fighting to be acknowledged as whole, complete human beings. Through abolition and anti-black laws, Black people have been standing up to the Canadian government and demanding the recognition of their humanity.
And Since 1619, the Canadian government has been pushing back at these attempts. Through segregation, race riots (the first one in North America taking place in July 1784 in Birchtown, Nova Scotia), Jim Crow-esque laws and discriminatory immigration practices, the Canadian government has impeded any and every attempt at self-determination.
And this is what the discussion about capitalizing the 'B' in 'Black' is about. The freedom, ability and power of Black people to define themselves.
This refusal to acknowledge the humanity and correct name of Black people is a daily reminder of the place that Black people inhabit in this country: the absence of Black people in Justin Trudeau's "revolutionary" cabinet and his recent denial of the existence of the residuals of colonization and imperialism in Canada; their overrepresentation in prisons and foster care; Mayor John Tory and Premier Kathleen Wynne's reluctance to stand on the right side of history by abolishing carding.
This argument over the proper way to refer to Black people in print is not a new one. American historian, civil rights leader and sociologist W.E.B Du Bois, who was active in the late 19th century and early 20th century is thought to be the first person to capitalize 'Black.' The trend continued with writer and poet Audre Lorde.
Recently, CBC employees Angela Sterritt and Connie Walker tweeted that the national news organization would be capitalizing the words Aboriginal, Native and Indigenous, following in the tracks of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, which began capitalizing 'Black' earlier this year.
Here's to hoping the rest of Canadian media steps into the new millennium. Because it's 2016, and I am a human being.
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