Brandon Robshaw: English Usage #17



black is Black


In October, for Black History Month, the historian David Olusoga did a series of articles for The Times about the black experience in Britain. Or, rather, the Black experience, for Olusoga adopts the new fashion of capitalising Black when it refers to people. The articles were very good popular history and brought home the fact that black people have been living in Britain for much longer than might be realised (there was a black trumpeter in Henry VIII's court orchestra). But I'm still undecided about that capital B – as you see I am not (yet) employing it myself. It seems somehow forced, especially since white is not capitalised. The implied claim might be that the experience of black people has been neglected and the word ought to be capitalised to emphasise its importance; or the claim might be that because black history is a history of shared experience (mostly oppression), black people have the same sort of bond and identity as a nationality or religion. The second of those claims seems to me to have more force than the first. But now that I've written them down they both seem to have something going for them. Hmm. I think I've persuaded myself. I might feel self-conscious at first but I'm going to start writing Black with a capital B.



Dr Brandon Robshaw lectures for the Open University in Philosophy, Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. He has written several children’s books including a philosophical YA novel, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers. He and his family starred in BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner. You can find his website here.