Capitalizing Black but not white

Commenter Mark Dowd urged me to get on board with the spreading movement to capitalize Black when referring to a group identity. I had noticed the trend myself but had not done anything about it partly because of inertia and partly because I was not sure what the full ramifications were. How much does it generalize? For example, does that mean that ‘white’ should be capitalized too?

So I looked to that authoritative journalistic source, the Associated Press Style Guide and they said that had been looking into this question for over two years and in June 2020 gave reasons why they had decided to capitalize Black.

AP’s style is now to capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, conveying an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa. The lowercase black is a color, not a person.

We also now capitalize Indigenous in reference to original inhabitants of a place. 

These changes align with long-standing capitalization of other racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American and Native American. Our discussions on style and language consider many points, including the need to be inclusive and respectful in our storytelling and the evolution of language. We believe this change serves those ends.

So what about white? The next month they said that they had decided against capitalizing white and again gave reasons.

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. That includes the shared experience of discrimination due solely to the color of one’s skin.

There is, at this time, less support for capitalizing white. 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.

We agree that white people’s skin color plays into systemic inequalities and injustices, and we want our journalism to robustly explore those problems. But capitalizing the term white, as is done by white supremacists, risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs.

These arguments seem persuasive to me and I will follow suit, except when out of force of habit I forget to do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.