Why the Associated Press is writing “Black” and “white”

When I was writing about the New York Times music critic’s article calling for an end to blind orchestra auditions—although they have reportedly led to a dramatic increase in women orchestral players, they haven’t done squat for blacks or Hispanics—I noticed that the Times, like other venues, is now capitalizing “Black” and using lowercase “white” when it refers to ethnic groups. To wit:

I’ve objected to this because if we’re going to treat “races” equally, you have to use either caps for both of them or small letters for both. There was no rational reason I could see for this increasingly common practice. Now, however, the Associated Press has “explained” why their stylebook mandates this. You can read the explanation by clicking on the screenshot below:

I put the full explanation below; bolding is mine:

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.

Some have expressed the belief that if we don’t capitalize white, we are being inconsistent and discriminating against white people or, conversely, that we are implying that white is the default. We also recognize the argument that capitalizing the term could pull white people more fully into issues and discussions of race and equality. We will closely watch how usage and thought evolves, and will periodically review our decision.

As the AP Stylebook currently directs, we will continue to avoid the broad and imprecise term brown in racial, ethnic or cultural references. If using the term is necessary as part of a direct quotation, we will continue to use the lowercase.

For more details, see the AP Stylebook’s race-related coverage guidance, which says in part: “Consider carefully when deciding whether to identify people by race. Often, it is an irrelevant factor and drawing unnecessary attention to someone’s race or ethnicity can be interpreted as bigotry.”

The guidance also says:

Reporting and writing about issues involving race calls for thoughtful consideration, precise language, and an openness to discussions with others of diverse backgrounds about how to frame coverage or what language is most appropriate, accurate and fair. Avoid broad generalizations and labels; race and ethnicity are one part of a person’s identity. Identifying people by race and reporting on actions that have to do with race often go beyond simple style questions, challenging journalists to think broadly about racial issues before having to make decisions on specific situations and stories.In all coverage — not just race-related coverage — strive to accurately represent the world, or a particular community, and its diversity through the people you quote and depict in all formats. Omissions and lack of inclusion can render people invisible and cause anguish.

To me this explanation is disingenuous, and leaves out the real reason. It’s disingenuous because it claims that all black people have “strong historical and cultural commonalities,” when in fact there are profound cultural differences between different black communities. What do the San people of Africa have in common with Trinidadians, with black Brazilians, with blacks in Alabama, or Somalis? Surely not oppression as a uniform experience!

As for historical commonalities, well, there is a genetic commonality, in that people who self-identify as black tend to be more genetically similar than people who self-identify as white, but I don’t think that this is the “history” that Danieszewski is talking about.

If white people don’t share the same history and culture, then neither do blacks. But, as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African History & Culture maintained, at least American whites all share the same culture. Here’s one of the two graphics it eventually eliminated, though the message of “white culture” permeates Critical Race Studies:

Further, all whites are said to share “Western culture” in a way that blacks don’t: the culture of the Enlightenment, purveyed, it’s said, by privileged white men.

Which brings us to another aspect of white culture: the shared traits of colonialization and oppression of minorities. If blacks are said to share a culture of experiencing discrimination based on skin culture, then surely whites, who are the oppressors, share the experience of being oppressors (remember, people like Robin DiAngelo say that bigotry and oppression are inherent in all whites, even if they don’t realize it). Why is one a shared “culture” and the other not?

In truth, the AP’s stylebook is all window dressing. My deep suspicion is that capitalizing “Black”, especially when the rationale is so dubious, is a misguided way to confer empowerment on blacks, and a small-case “white” is designed to label them as oppressors.  This is one of the overreactions following the murder of George Floyd—though I hasten to add that many of the reactions, like calling attention to inequities, are laudable. But others, like Democrats kneeling on the House floor in kente cloth, are embarrassing.

Still, the inequities should not include capitalization, though I’m afraid we’re stuck with this for a while. As the AP itself said, flouting its own guidance, “Avoid broad generalizations and labels; race and ethnicity are one part of a person’s identity.

Yet apparently, because of the purported (but false) sharing of culture among all blacks, it’s the main part of people’s identity. And that, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, and comrades, is one of the primary tenets of Critical Race Theory.

 

83 Comments

  1. dd
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    If oppression is a key factor for creating identity, shouldn’t then “Women” and “Gays” be capitalized? The AP’s explanation for capitalizing “Black” is disingenuous and obfuscatory.

    Essentially, the capitalization of the “b” in “black” renders black people a permanent victim class in which victimology is a superordinate characteristic….much to the point of what John McWhorter wrote about as noted in an entry on this site a couple of days ago.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/dehumanizing-condescension-white-fragility/614146/

    • eric
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      I agree, their reasoning would apply just as well as those groups, and it’s hypocritical of them to capitalize black but not gay.

      OTOH, they’re also capitalizing ‘hispanic’ and ‘latino’, so they are at least trying to think a bit more broadly than just an overreaction to the Floyd murder.

      Personally I’d prefer no such capitalization on any of these terms as the general guideline. Let individual authors add emphasis where they think it’s warranted, but keep the general guidelines limited to proper nouns. Trying to get the grammar rules to make people more liberal is exactly the sort of stupid, heavy-handed, social management move that causes the right to proclaim that the mainstream media isn’t objective at all but rather fully on board with some (conspiratorial) liberal agenda. This will not get people to think more empathetically about blacks, it will cause more friction instead.

      Lastly, slippery slope arguments are generally no good, but in this case I think it’s very easy to see how various groups demanding similar grammatical recognition could lead to a very ‘Victorian’ style of writing with loads of unnecessary capitalization which, IMO, is extremely annoying to read.

      • Posted July 22, 2020 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        “OTOH, they’re also capitalizing ‘hispanic’ and ‘latino’, so they are at least trying to think a bit more broadly than just an overreaction to the Floyd murder.”

        I didn’t notice, but are they also capitalizing Asian and Pacific Islander, etc.? Don’t we all know that whites, regardless of country of origin, social class, differences in education and wealth are all exceptionally benefitted as recipients of white skin? In contrast to Blacks, Hispanics or other Brown people, Asians or other Yellow people, and Pacific Islanders of Whatever Color?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Essentially, the capitalization of the “b” in “black” renders black people a permanent victim class in which victimology is a superordinate characteristic….much to the point of what John McWhorter wrote about as noted in an entry on this site a couple of days ago.

      That would be the same column in The Atlantic in which Prof. McWhorter himself capitalized the “B” in Black throughout (except for when quoting directly from DiAngelo’s book, which didn’t)?

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Hey AP Style guide writers – you sure are brave fighting racism. I’m sure all Black people are really happy that they finally got the “B” capitalized in “Black”.

  3. Posted July 22, 2020 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    🤣🤣 h/t merilee

  4. Posted July 22, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Everyone agrees that we need to work on creating a more equal society, but it is mindboggling to think that establishing new conventions that standardize new asymmetries in how we conceptualize race (“Black” vs. “white”) is the best path toward equality. This is the logic of Orwell. This is the logic of Alice in Wonderland.

    • Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      According to CRT, the new asymmetry makes up for all the old asymmetry and the fact that symmetry wasn’t (and isn’t) working. Of course, symmetry was (and is) working but not well enough or fast enough for them. IMHO, asymmetry is still bad, new or old.

  5. Suzanna Sherry
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    My colleague Dan Farber and I wrote about Critical Race Theory (as well as radical feminism and others) some 30 years ago, warning that their beliefs were inherently anti-Enlightenment (and inevitably had anti-Semitic implications). They were fringe academic movements then, but now they’ve gone mainstream. We warned you! (If you’re interested: Farber & Sherry, Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law.)

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Interesting, how did people react to your book when it was published?

      • Suzanna Sherry
        Posted July 22, 2020 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        Because of the book (and the prior journal articles on which it was based), we were called racists and castigated throughout the legal academy. I was called a traitor to my sex and a “white male.” Even our own colleagues were part of it: In a weird procedural vote, about a third of the faculty voted that they would not grant Dan tenure, although he’d been tenured for 15 years and was the most productive member of the faculty. The vote had no effect, but telling. One of my colleagues organized a student protest when I was given a chair. I’m sure both of us lost opportunities at other schools. We both left U of Minnesota not long afterward, disgusted.

        • eric grobler
          Posted July 22, 2020 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

          I trust you often get the opportunity to say “I told you so” 🙂

        • Posted July 26, 2020 at 5:42 am | Permalink

          I am sorry that your careers suffered this way. To me, all this sadly reminds pre-1989 Eastern Europe.

  6. boudiccadylis
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    This is B.S.!

    • jezgrove
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Now there’s a capital “B” that is needed!

  7. steve oberski
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Oh the irony of a white dude lecturing Black people on what their historical and cultural commonalities are.

  8. Jon Gallant
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    And now, in addition to demanding that everyone use personal pronouns that we choose for ourselves, we have the burning issue of choosing whether our group is uppercase or lowercase. If historic oppressors get to be lower case, then Russians should be russians, surely, and no question about americans. As
    for “cultural commonalities” and “shared experience of discrimination”, what about Deaf People? [Ooops, I mean the Aurally Challenged.]

    • BJ
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

      Hell, many of the countries/tribes on a certain coast in Africa should be written in lowercase, as many of the kingdoms there were based largely (some almost entirely) on slavery, including selling those slaves to white traders. And slavery of other tribes still persists to this day in places across Africa, not to mention the slavery-in-all-but-name in places like, say, the United Arab Emirates. People always marvel at how quickly the UAE manages to build facilities. Um, guys, it’s because they bring people in from other areas/countries, steal their passports, and force them to work essentially as slaves. A disproportionate number of them die in construction accidents because who needs to spend money on safety measures that will slow down production when nobody really cares about what you’re doing? Yes, you can build multiple stadiums in a matter of months when you use slave labor.

  9. jezgrove
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    An article in The Guardian did the same thing a few days ago: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/16/trump-police-abolition-black-americans (Actually, they missed some capital ‘B’s in one paragraph, so will probably find themselves cancelled.)

    I emailed a short letter asking if this ridiculous kind of “reverse microaggression” is productive, but they didn’t publish it.

  10. Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    A lot of folks do seem to be capitalizing on poor George Floyd’s death.

  11. Rick Bannister
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    A simple solution would be to do what the Germans do and capitalize ALL nouns. Too simple? Oh well.

  12. Historian
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    From the AP Explanation:

    “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.”

    Is Mr. Daniszewski not aware what is going on in Africa where there has been massacres committed on tribal lines, not racial? If so, he should refer to this article about genocide in South Sudan. I doubt that the people there would agree that the nation is characterized by “historical and cultural commonalities.” Oh, by the way, the article is from the Associated Press.

    https://apnews.com/f41d9a3e9dd147f6bddd0d8f4822d342/british-official-south-sudan-violence-tribal-genocide

    • TJR
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Not to mention the huge difference between black americans and west indians, whose ancestors were captured and sold as slaves, and west africans, some of whose ancestors captured and sold those slaves (some of the ancestors of some of the people, to be clear).

    • Filippo
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      “Is Mr. Daniszewski not aware what is going on in Africa where there has been massacres committed on tribal lines, not racial?”

      Mr. Daniszewski should have have mediated between the Hutus and the Tutsis.

  13. Matt Young
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Maybe we should simply return to the Practice of capitalizing all Nouns, as our Ancestors did 200 Years ago. Then we would not be having this Discussion, and no One would have to pretend that Blacks have cultural Commonalities and Whites do not.

    • Dick Veldkamp
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      I like it!

      Your proposed Practice has a quaint antique Flavour about it. However the Effect would probably wear off if all People start writing like this.

      Just like German Texts do not strike us as old-fashioned.

    • ERIC
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      But then to recognize the stronger historical and cultural commonalities amongst Blacks versus whites we’d have to start writing BLACK versus White, AND PRETTY SOON WE’RE ALL WRITING LIKE THIS.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Haven’t some quarters of the Twitterati begun to do so already?

    • Posted July 22, 2020 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      But Black is capitalized when used as an adjective (eg. Black artists) as well, so that won’t solve the problem.

      • Matt Young
        Posted July 22, 2020 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        Alas, that is so; it will only partly solve the Problem.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I see those woke Bolsheviks at Mr. Murdoch’s The Wall Street Journal have adopted the same stylebook policy.

    • Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Maybe they should put a period after it, like they do their own name.

  15. Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Disingenuous and a very clear example of motivated reasoning.

    An important reason for this change is to reveal ones’ total commitment (or not) to a very narrow point of view. A member of a special club. “A friend of ours“.

  16. Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    What about the aboriginal peoples of Australian and New Zealand? Do they share “strong historical and cultural commonalities” with other “Black” people?

    • Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      By their argument, yes. That being one of oppression.

      • eric grobler
        Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        Descendants of peasants in Europe are also Black?

  17. Jon Gallant
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    On a related matter: one shared commonality of the Black Experience in america is the fiction that all African slaves from the 17th century on were kidnapped by roving bands of armed white slavers. In fact, the routine method by which Portuguese and then English slave traders obtained slaves was to purchase them from their African owners—who were the rulers of West African states like Kongo and Dahomey that grew rich by enslaving fellow Africans and then selling them to European traders (see Wikipedia). This simple fact of history brings up an interesting question in regard to the subject of Reparations: i.e., should not the African successor states be charged something as well?

    • eric
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      should not the African successor states be charged something as well?

      That’s not the way justice works.

      “Yes your honor, it’s true that I had women tied up in the back of my truck and was planning on using them as unwilling prostitutes. But the Mexican cartels were the ones who kidnapped them off the streets, so clearly you should take half my sentenced years and apply them to the cartels instead.”

      • Adam M.
        Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Well, normally thieves are punished more harshly than those who merely knowingly purchase stolen property. 😛

      • Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:08 am | Permalink

        It is true that Mexican cartels are routinely left off the hook, but to me, this is not exactly justice.

  18. Rasmo Carenna
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Saying that all blacks share a common experience while at the same time admonishing against “broad generalizations and labels” shows the self-contradictory character of this nonsense. And, from a factual perspective, the white as opressor trope is not valid. How easily we forget the islamic empires (caliphates), for instance. White slaves, particularly white women sex-slaves were a precious commodity in some places and times where non-whites were the ruling people.
    And do descendants of Somali slave traders get to claim opressed-victim status too?
    This is tiresome.

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      “White slaves, particularly white women”

      Don’t forget the Islamic slave trade in Eastern Africa (see Zanzibar)

      • savage
        Posted July 22, 2020 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Would also be nice if the fate of the millions of slaves today, many of whom live in Africa, would get more attention.

        • Doug
          Posted July 22, 2020 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

          I have heard people defend modern-day slavery in Africa as not being all that bad. “You can’t compare it to American slavery, yada yada yada.”

          Remember, it’s always worse when white people do it.

  19. Tim
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    “people who self-identify as black tend to be more genetically similar than people who self-identify as white”

    Really? I thought most of the genetic diversity in the Human species was in Africa, with the rest of us (European, Asian, etc) being minor variants on the genome of those who left Africa.

    • Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      What you say is true, but I’m talking about measure of genetic similarity and difference, and when you take different geographic areas and look at the average differences among many loci, Africans tend to cluster together and are different from Eurasians (and other groups; there are about five, including those from the New World.)

      • Tim
        Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        You’re making a hell of a generalisation with your use of the word “Africans”. Do Malians cluster with Ethiopians? Ethiopians with Zulus? Zulus with Egyptians? Egyptians with Congolese?

        • Posted July 22, 2020 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

          I answered you politely and you’ve become bloody snarky and ignorant. It’s not a generalization, it’s the outcome of cluster analysis. And I’m talking about black Africans, not Arabs. I guess since you don’t know the data, I have to provide it for you.

          Here: read this paper:

          https://science.sciencemag.org/content/298/5602/2381

        • Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

          And, to Jerry’s link, I will add my recommendation to read David Reich’s, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past.

      • Mike
        Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        What Jerry says is true, but a lot of that overall genetic similarity among modern African populations is caused by relatively recent mass migrations within Africa (last 10,000 years) that generated a lot of geographical similarity among later African populations. David Reich’s book summarizes these homogenizing events. At the time of the last out-of-Africa event, when non-African populations were established, what Tim says was more true: African populations in different parts of the continent were diverse and very different from each other, and non-Africans are descended from a small branch of that overall greater African diversity that at the time was found in northeast Africa. At least that’s my understanding, maybe an expert in the comments will correct me.

        • eric grobler
          Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          I think I read somewhere that the San Bushmen are some of the most genetic distinct populations.

  20. eric
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Q1 – person X emigrates to the U.S. from South Africa in 2020. Do they share “strong historical and cultural commonalities” with many 2nd generation, 3rd generation, or >N-generation Americans of their same skin color?

    Reasonable answer: almost certainly not.

    AP answer: you’ll have to tell me their skin color before I answer that.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      And what strikes me with all of this is it seems to me that this sort of thing, along with the concept of only whites being able to do science (because that’s basically what they are saying – that it’s somehow intrinsic to white culture – which I don’t think is a thing either), is something I would expect to hear from the mouth of a white supremacist.

      • eric
        Posted July 23, 2020 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        Ryan Long’s You Tube video, “When Wokes and Racists Actually Agree on Everything” makes the same point. It’s worth a view (IMO).

        Fair warning: he’s a comedian not a pundit, so the emphasis is on making the comparisons amusing/silly, not on getting every detail correct. But, it’s correct enough to sting IMO.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 23, 2020 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          OMG that was awesome. I love when comedy takes on these issues…I think issues are more immediately understandable when it does.

          For anyone else who wants to view the video here is a link to it.

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      “person X emigrates to the U.S. from South Africa”

      You mean they can be White, Indian, Black or Cape Coloured?

    • Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Bam!

      Exactly.

      I work with numerous first-generation immigrants from Africa. One is from Congo and I have never met anyone with darker skin that he has. (He is magnificent, physically and as a colleague.)

      And they have nothing in common with the “urban” culture in the USA. They all clearly seem to follow those “white” principles of success.

      We have numerous Somali immigrants in Minnesota. They, too, seem to me to follow those same “white” principles of success. (For one thing, virtually every parent highly values the education of their children and is involved in it.*)

      —————

      *Slight diversion here. Critics of the US public education system (probably the most successful social program ever implemented in the USA) like to say that teachers are the key to education outcomes. Sure, they are important, since they are the “boots on the ground”.

      But, anyone who works in education can tell you that the most important factor in student success is parental involvement.

      With the approaching fall start of school, my wife an I have been discussing this. People who are intimately involved in urban schools (and probably rural schools as well) will not know what these schools provide:
      – Safe physical space for the kids
      – As many as 3 meals per day
      – Basic clothing for kids
      – Winter warm clothing for kids
      – Laundry service for kids
      – Socializing the kids
      – Supplemental food (many teacher send home food (that they buy themselves) in kids backpacks, because they know the kids aren’t being fed enough)
      – Schools supplies, usually from teachers’ own pockets
      – Before and after school care
      – In addition to the legally mandated: Social support, social work interventions, language support, academic special supports, transportation, etc., etc.

      Right now, there is great criticism of the local schools because the aren’t doing enough of the above under COVID conditions. These are far beyond the real mission of schools. They have become the defacto social service outlets for society. And this just adds to the overburden of (unfunded) mandates imposed on the schools and makes it even harder for them to do their real work: Educating.

      Everyone should know: This is surrogate parenting, plain and simple.

      We should recognize it as such and deal with the cost and burden as such.

      Of course, this is taboo, because it would reflect badly on the parents …

      • darrelle
        Posted July 23, 2020 at 8:11 am | Permalink

        Emeril, is that you?

        On schooling, I almost entirely agree. And parents are absolutely a significant part of the equation. But I think a bigger problem here is the governmental decisions that have turned our public schools into “the defacto social service outlets for society” (very well said by the way) while at the same time seriously undermining funding for them. A process that has played out over many years. As you said, that all takes away from what their real work is supposed to be.

        It’s a big hair ball of interconnected issues. A gestalt, if you will, that clearly shows how screwed up public education is in the US is the low pay and low respectability the position of teacher is afforded in our society.

    • jezgrove
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      A good point well made, eric!

  21. Ben Curtis
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I think WASP is usually capitalized. Is that an example of something “White” being used as a proper noun?

    • Matt Young
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Wasp is redundant; the correct locution is Asp.

      • Ben Curtis
        Posted July 22, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        +1 :>)

      • AlTazim
        Posted July 22, 2020 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

        When the term was first coined in the 50s, the “W” stood for “Wealthy”, which made sense to describe an elite group because “Wealthy Anglo-Saxon Protestant” really was a quite narrow segment of society. But the term became popular in the 60s, as “White” replaced “Wealthy”; my guess is because everyone considered wealth as something to be aspired to, whereas race wasn’t really something you could change or aspire to.

        • Matt Young
          Posted July 22, 2020 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

          That’s what Wikipedia says, and it credits Andrew Hacker in 1957. Merriam Webster gives the first usage as 1948, with no mention of “wealthy.” Me, I will stick with Asp.

    • Adam M.
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s just the usual practice of capitalizing the letters that make up the acronym when expanding it.

  22. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    -Self reliance = white, hence dependence = Black?
    – Independence and autonomy highly valued = white.
    Blacks do not value independence and autonomy?
    – Objective, linear thinking is white? Subjective, twisted thinking is Black?
    – Cause and effect relationships are white, Blacks cannot see cause and effect?
    – Hard work is the key to success is a white notion? Blacks think success will come by laying on their lazy asses?

    That “Aspects and assumptions of whiteness and white culture in South Africa the United States”, appears to come straight from Mr Verwoerd. He would definitely have approved.

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      Is saying that some cultures are more conscientious than others controversial?

      If Verwoerd claimed that Western Culture is superior to African culture I would feel obliged to point out aspects where African culture is better, but would not wholly disagree.

      However Verwoerd likely believed that Europeans are genetically superior.
      Anyone knows if he ever publicly stated that?

      Anyway Verwoerd claimed that Apartheid would allow Whites and Blacks (the various black tribes independently) to develop peacefully at their own pace while preserving their own cultures.

      However the Whites did not distribute resources equitably, rendered the majority of blacks stateless and as cheap labor white enduring dehumanizing laws.

      Unfortunately today poor blacks (especially women) are arguably worse off than during the apartheid period in terms of crime and poverty.

    • AlTazim
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      It’s the type of thing that you learn if you take a Sociology 101 or Social Psychology 101 class: different societies do things differently, including in the way they think. Australian Aboriginal cultures frequently think in terms of cardinal directions (north, east, south, west) when giving directions, Europeans and many other cultures think “left, right, front, back, up, down, etc”. Some Papua New guinea cultures can count “One”, “Two”, and “Many”, so the numbers 10, 24, 263, or 1002 don’t translate and are nonsensical because they’re functionally all the same to them. Just fun things to learn and to open your mind up a bit as a freshman and sophomore.

      Now, though, apparently that means the ones associated with Europeans are racist to the extent we privilege them over other forms of knowledge and ways of knowing. So the universities are demolishing themselves from within as the cliche goes about being so open-minded your brain falls out.

  23. chris
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    So if you’re mixed race and one of those races is white and one is Black, are you Mixed race, Mixed Race, mixed Race, or mixed race? Or does it depend on the percentage of mixing?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      And how intrinsically racist are you and can you do science?

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      I believe 10% or more “black blood” is strong enough to classify you as a Black person.

      Obama for example is not white at all.

      The Germans in the 30’s did ground breaking work on blood principles.

      • Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        In the old south, it was the “one-drop” principle. Sort of like an infection.

        Any admixture of African heritage (they knew virtually nothing of human origins of course) was enough to put you out of the club.

        • Filippo
          Posted July 22, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

          “Any admixture of African heritage (they knew virtually nothing of human origins of course) was enough to put you out of the club.”

          I’m reminded that, during Obama’s first POTUS campaign, not a few Americans wondered whether Obama were “black enough.”

  24. Posted July 22, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Dang! I forgot about Native Americans. Are they all to be lumped together, whether they may view themselves as different people, capitalized or uncapitalized? And what about any of the minority peoples of any country such as the Ainu people of Japan? And, historically, what about the black Nubians and the whatever-other-color Egyptians when both were Egyptian? What about the Egyptians when they were part Greek? What about the Turks and the Armenians or Greeks? What about the Han Chinese and the Uighers or Tibetans? Is this ridiculous, or what?!

  25. phoffman56
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    There is a continuum in the, shall we say, ‘swarthiness’ of the people who are oppressors here. I believe there have been Middle Eastern/Asiatic peoples with African slaves at times in the past, as well as the atrocities between African peoples recounted for example in Kabloona from around 1860.

    (Diverting briefly, perhaps the old Vikings are at one end of that continuum or spectrum, though many of their slaves are reputed to have been women from what is now Ireland. Everybody there were likely pretty black around the year -3000 and earlier, but that was far before Lief Erickson’s time.)

    Perhaps an entire subindustry of the lettering gurus could begin to invent a continuum of versions of the 2nd letter of the Roman alphabet (roman??), so that the swarthier the oppressing people, the smaller the ‘b’ before ‘lack’ denoting their victims, in this matching of continua.

    Furthermore, the brilliant argument beginning the AP screed pointed out an asymmetry. And also of course there is an abstract asymmetry between ‘B’ and ‘w’. But there is also the same asymmetry between ‘b’ and ‘W’. It seems their army of lettering appropriateness logicians are missing a major point here.

    Or is it somehow deducible that ‘B’ is morally superior to ‘b’?

    The laughableness of this whole nonsense might well be very embarrassing to some of its supposed beneficiaries.

    • Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been on the receiving end of discrimination in certain circumstances in both Thailand and Nepal. (Despite being a white tourist; maybe because we were traveling so rough at the time?)

      It was unpleasant. Of course, I knew I would be away from it soon, being able to travel away from it.

      But, to your point, skin color isn’t the thing. It’s local.

  26. Posted July 22, 2020 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    This goes right along with the notion that racism is “directional”.

    That is: If you are “of the oppressed” then you cannot, by definition, be racist towards “the oppressor”. (Which brings to mind the autonomous collective scene from the Holy Grail.)

    I have heard, many times in the last few years, woke “people of color” on our local NPR station declaiming on this very point, forcefully and directly, mincing no words.

    My wife heard an African American woman, mother of one of the students in her school, walking through the halls of the school, yelling at the top of her lungs, “I hate all white people!” over and over.

    And this is supposedly “not racist”. Riiiight.

    Here, this is really good Koolaid. Grape, just like at Jonestown …

  27. harrync
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    “Some have expressed the belief that if we don’t capitalize white [while capitalizing Black],…we are implying that white is the default.” Yes, you are.

  28. Filippo
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Not directly, grammatically, related to “B” and “b,” but somewhat.

    Per print edition of the Tue 7/22/20 NYT, pg. B4, Disney has fired a senior executive responsible for hiring/managing ABC News on-air talent, Barbara Fedida, for “racially-insensitive” remarks (” . . . Fedida said the company was not asking her [Robin Roberts] ‘to pick cotton’ . . . .”) she directed to Robin Roberts during salary negotiations.

    (I think that statement, if true, more than sufficient cause for Fedida’s firing. Though, I wonder if there would have been an uproar had Fedida instead said, “It’s not like the company is asking you to be President of the United States.” If I can believe what I read on the net, Robert’s salary is $18M/yr, forty-five times that of the POTUS, $400K/yr. The yawning gap in responsibility is mind-numbing.)

    I perceive, however subjectively, that, in such an adverse interaction involving a Black person, if the antagonist is White, the NY Times is awfully good to inform readers of that. The Times states ” . . . Robin Roberts, who is Black . . . .” (Not a few TV viewers are aware of Robert’s ethnicity, as compared with Fedida’s.) The Times does not state Fedida’s ethnicity. Why not? An inadvertent omission? From a reasonable net search I gather that Fedida is of Moroccan (North African) heritage.

    I see this as a recent example of a long-running trend of the Times avoiding mentioning the ethnicity of an antagonist who is not White, with the possible (probable?) exception of (East/Southeast?) Asians.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 22, 2020 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    I read the covid-19 pandemic has mainly increased racism against Asians.

    White people generally do not share the same history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color. … We also recognize the argument that capitalizing the term could pull white people more fully into issues and discussions of race and equality. We will closely watch how usage and thought evolves, and will periodically review our decision.

    So to ‘fight’ discrimination, increase discrimination, by pretending it is helpful!?

    I would never read a racist newspaper unless it is to understand it – and now I have. Bye, bye, AP.


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  1. […] AP’s stylebook that newly mandates capitalization for Black but not for white (see here and here for my posts).  The New York Times has adopted this usage, while the Washington Post, in contrast, […]

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