Associated Press Decides Whether to Capitalize White as a Race


The Associated Press reached a decision on whether to follow its rule on capitalizing Black as a race with a similar rule about whether to capitalize White.

Back in June, the Associated Press said it was still deciding whether to capitalize white when that word describes a race.

It made the decision that the word Black, when used to refer to a race, should be capitalized.

Numerous media outlets — newspapers and TV stations — use the AP Stylebook. The Associated Press maintains that guide to keep consistency in the writing style among its members. That way, it’s easier to share content among AP affiliates.

I pointed out there’s a lot of disagreement about the terms black and white. Some prefer African American or Person of Color for black and Caucasian for white. Others say black and white aren’t actual race names. Therefore, you should not capitalize them.

The AP disagreed on black. It said going forward, it would capitalize black, which it called a color, not a person. The decision, AP said in its blog, conveys “an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify” as such. That includes those in the African diaspora and within Africa.

It also said it would capitalize the I in indigenous when referring to Indigenous people.

But there’s a potential problem when you capitalize white.

AP says it found “clear desire and reason” to capitalize Black. But to capitalize White for the same type of use could cause a problem.

“White people generally do not share the same history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color,” it wrote on its blog.

Also, white supremacists capitalize white. Therefore, AP editors do not want to imply they are “conveying legitimacy to such beliefs.”

I’m sure this will be a controversial decision. The point of fairness, some will argue, is to treat everyone the same. But history shows again and again that one group almost never received equal treatment.

As I pointed out in June, the Columbia Journalism Review reached the same decision.

But The Atlantic did not. Its editors called both terms “historically created racial identities.”

“Whatever rule applies to one should apply to the other,” they wrote.

But after they listed additional arguments for and against, they promised to periodically review the decision.

At some point, it might change.

I said back in June I would capitalize both, except when referring to white supremacists, which I think deserve no capitalization.

Like the AP, I may periodically review that decision. So far, I don’t think it has come up.

1 Comment

  1. Thinking about whether or not to capitalize black or white is not nearly as controversial to me as is the capitalization of black or white thinking. 🙂

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.