Grammar

Should You Capitalize Black When Referring to Race?

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People argue about whether it’s appropriate to capitalize black and white when referring to people’s races, but disagreement remains.

Some sources made the decision to capitalize black when they write about people of color. Other sources will capitalize both black and white.

The Associated Press Style Book just made a decision on the matter as well. More on that in a moment.

Writers and website editors disagree on what’s appropriate. Some say that black and white aren’t really races but commonly-used adjectives.

Some Black people prefer “African American” or “People of Color” to the term Black. Others seem to prefer Black.

For White people, some prefer the term Caucasian, though I’ve heard Whites object to the term because they didn’t want to be referred to as “Asian.”

No one can agree on anything. Even labels.

Is it wrong to capitalize black and white?

You won’t find a single “right answer” here, either.

The Columbia Journalism Review will capitalize Black but not white. They reason that Black refers to “a shared sense of identity and community.” However, they suggest “capitalizing the word in this context risks following the lead of white supremacists.”

Of course, they could choose to capitalize Black and White and intentionally not capitalize white supremacist. That would seem to make sense to me.

The Atlantic, meanwhile, argues that both terms are “historically-created racial identities.” What’s right for one should be right for both, they say. So they capitalize both.

So let’s talk about the Associated Press. That news agency produces the Associated Press Style Book, a style guide used by its member agencies. They follow the style specified in that work to keep their writing style consistent among members.

The Style Book features rules about how to handle almost anything. For instance, you write 9 o’clock in the morning as 9 a.m. Not 9:00am, 9 AM or 9:00A.M. If you ever write something for an organization that follows AP Style — or any other style guide, for that matter — you quickly learn how important it is to learn the rules.

AP just announced a decision late last week.

Going forward, it will capitalize the B in Black when referring to a race or identity of people. The lowercase black “is a color, not a person,” they say. AP will also capitalize the I in Indigenous.

That leads to the obvious question: What about White?

In a nutshell, they say they’re still deciding.

I’m not. Going forward, I’ll capitalize both. (Unless we’re talking about those supremacists. They don’t get a capital anything.)

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 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.