I doubt that I’ll write much more about this issue, and bring it up here because Greg has turned up some curious journalistic information. This all involves newspapers’ decisions about whether to capitalize “black” and “white” when they refer to races, or rather, to socially constructed entities formerly known as races. I’ve discussed the capitalization issue in two earlier posts, prompted by the 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, capitalizes both Black and White. I’d like to see their editors fight it out.
None of the justifications for the contrasting caps decision seem valid. For instance, some say that Black should be capitalized because the group shares a common fate of oppression (though not everywhere), but of course whites share the common trait of being the oppressor. And so it goes. My own take is that the real reason “Black” is capitalized is as a form of linguistic reparations: to give respect to a people who have been poorly treated. In contrast, “whites” get lowercase as a form of punishment, for being the oppressor. This is clear from an article in the New York Times that says this:
For proponents of capitalizing black, there are grammatical reasons — it is a proper noun, referring to a specific group of people with a shared political identity, shaped by colonialism and slavery. But some see it as a moral issue as well.
It confers a sense of power and respect to 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’s very real for our own identities,” said Whitney Pirtle, an assistant professor of sociology specializing in critical race theory at the University of California, Merced. “I think that capitalizing B both sort of puts respect to those identities, but also alludes to the humanities.”
Similarly, this recent article in HuffPost (below) which pretends to be evenhanded but comes down on the side of disparate capitalization, says this:
Years before the AP decision, The Diversity Style Guide ― which is produced by San Francisco State University journalism professor Rachele Kanigel in consultation with some 50 journalists and experts ― recommended capitalizing Black.
“It’s true that Black, unlike African American, Asian American and Italian, is not derived from a proper noun,” she told HuffPost. “But it is an identity and to lowercase it robs Black people of a certain dignity.”
. . .“The widespread move by media organizations, universities and other institutions to capitalize Black restores this dignity to Black Americans, who have had so much taken from them for so many generations,” Kanigel said.
Click on the screenshot to show HuffPo’s Twister game of capitalization.
In contrast, the argument for lowercase “whites” is largely, according to both the AP Stylebook and the HuffPost article, because if you capitalize the term, you’re validating white supremacy (!):
From HuffPo (which at least lays out arguments for capitalizing “White”):
Capitalizing white certainly doesn’t have widespread support, though, in part because white supremacist sites have also been known to capitalize the “w” in white.
“Capitalizing the term white, as is done by white supremacists, risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs,” the AP said of its decision to leave white lowercase.
From the AP stylebook:
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.
Well, I think that’s ludicrous, but to avoid being accused of being a Proud Boy, while at the same time not treating people differently based on their skin color, I’ll write “black” and “white” for the time being. “Brown” will also be in lowercase, though there are arguments about that, too.
So that’s settled, but of course readers can use whatever forms they want. The addition to the debate this week comes from Greg Mayer, who noticed what I see as unconscionable editing of other people’s words to conform to your own ideology. This is being done by the New York Times. I’ll quote an email from Greg:
I’ve noticed that the Times silently emends quotations from others’ printed texts to follow their house style of “Black”. I noticed this when reading a piece about Michael Cohen’s book in the Times, and they quoted Cohen as writing:“Tell me one country run by a Black person that isn’t a shithole,” Mr. Cohen quotes Mr. Trump as saying.The Guardian, in its review, quotes the same line:“Tell me one country run by a black person that isn’t a shithole. They are all complete fucking toilets,” Cohen writes, attributing the comments to Trump following the former president’s election in 2008 – mirroring earlier reports he referred to African and Caribbean nations by the same insult.The Guardian‘s house style, like the Times, is to capitalize “Black” but they, at least in this instance, don’t emend someone else’s usage.
Here’s further confirmation that the Times routinely alters the typography of quoted material to fit house style:Times article with “Black” in quoted material:
Original sources, quoted in above, using “black”