A debate on identity and race asks: Are African Americans ‘black’ or ‘black’?

For advocates of black capitalization, there are grammatical reasons: it is a proper name, referring to a specific group of people with a shared political identity, shaped by colonialism and slavery. But some also see it as a moral problem.

It confers a sense of power and respect on black people, who have often been relegated to the lowest rungs of society through racist systems, black scholars say.

“Race as a concept is not real in the biological sense, but it is very real to our own identities,” said Whitney Pirtle, an assistant professor of sociology specializing in critical race theory at the University of California, Merced. “I think if B is capitalized, they both respect those identities, but they also allude to the humanities.”

Vilna Bashi Treitler, a professor of black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said racial categories were fabricated, created to denigrate people considered non-white. Black and white are adjectives, not proper nouns to be capitalized on, he said, calling a term like “descendant of Africans” a more appropriate way to characterize blacks.

“It is a placeholder to describe the group of people who are perpetually reintegrating at the bottom of the racial hierarchy,” said Dr. Bashi Treitler, author of the book “The Ethnic Project,” about the term black. “I think we can be more revolutionary than accepting the term of the oppressor for ourselves.”

In her first two books, Crystal M. Fleming, sociologist and author, in lowercase black, in part due to academic differences between race and ethnicity. But the more she investigated, the more these distinctions blurred in her mind. She came to see race as a concept that could signify a culturally and politically significant identity.

Now Dr. Fleming, a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and author of “How to be less stupid about race,” is writing a youth book about fighting racism. She has decided to use Black.