The Volokh Conspiracy

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Do "People Who Are Black Have Strong Historical and Cultural Commonalities" Regardless of Where They are from and Where They Live?

Obviously not, but the Associated Press says otherwise.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The AP explains why it is capitalizing "black" but not "white" when referring to people's "race."

There was clear desire and reason to capitalize Black. Most notably, people who are Black have strong historical and cultural commonalities, even if they are from different parts of the world and even if they now live in different parts of the world.

Nonsense. What do a Christian Kenyan, a Muslim Nigerian, a Rwandan Tutsi, an Ethiopian Jew living in Israel, an African-American of partial Native American and European heritage, and an Afro-Brazilian of mixed Portuguese and African descent have in common, culturally and historically? The correct answer is nothing. The only thing they have in common is ancestral roots in Africa, and dark skin.

With regard to whites, the AP continues:

White people generally do not share the same history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color. In addition, we are a global news organization and in much of the world there is considerable disagreement, ambiguity and confusion about whom the term includes.

There is, it's true, ambiguity and disagreement about what "white" means. But that's true of "black" as well. People deemed "black" in the U.S. are mostly of mixed ancestral origin, and would be called something else in other countries, including South Africa and Brazil. Researchers found that in one country, what we call "African American" or "black" in the U.S. has twenty-eight different names. Frederick Zhang & Joseph Finkelstein, Inconsistency in Race and Ethnic Classification in Pharmacogenetics Studies and its Potential Clinical Implications, 12 Pharmacogenomics Perspectives in Medicine 107 (2019).

Mizrahi Jews in Israel are sometimes called "blacks." North Africans and Middle Easterners are often called (and call themselves) "black" in the UK. Should aboriginal Australians be referred to as "blacks?" Should Americans with one black and one non-black parent be called "black" or "multiracial?" Is Tiger Woods "black"?

I don't have a strong opinion on capitalizing black or not. In the American context, the reason to capitalize is to make it akin to other ethnic groups, but that rationale has largely been supplanted by the popularity of African American. But regardless of how one feels about the issue, the AP's claims that all people of African descent have historical and cultural commonalities is, dare I say it, racist, creating phony commonalities based on "race." And the claim that "globally," the scope of "white" is ambiguous but the scope of "black" is clear, is risible.