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A Note on Language

The words we use when talking about a topic are important. In working on this project, we have chosen to use both “Black” and “African American” interchangeably but primarily to use the term “Black.”

There are two reasons for this decision. The first is that “Black” presumes less knowledge about the people represented in the photographs or documents. We do not necessarily know if the people in question would identify with the history and culture of Black America or might actually think of themselves culturally as Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino, or something else.

The second reason has to do with the nature of race under the reign of Jim Crow. While the cultural and personal experiences and backgrounds of people are almost infinite, the law in Virginia under segregation only recognized two categories: one was either “white” or “colored.” Complex issues of parentage, culture, and ethnicity were erased and replaced by these twin monoliths, based on the constructed notion of “race.” While it is not our desire to render this concept legitimate or real, it is important to use terminology that addresses this racial bifurcation.

Style guides conflict on whether or not to capitalize “Black” or “white.” We have chosen to capitalize “Black” and not to capitalize “white.” We feel that it is appropriate to capitalize “Black Arlingtonians” for the same reason that it is appropriate to capitalize “German Arlingtonians” or “Korean Arlingtonians.”

We recognize this is a topic for continuing scholarship and discussion, and we invite the community to join the conversation.