FACTS

    In 1930, The New York Times started capitalizing Negro, a word no longer in use, as “an act in recognition of racial self-respect” following a campaign requesting such from the civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois. Now again, amid racial strife and protests happening around the world, the Times has decided to start “capitalizing Black when describing people and cultures of African origin.” Many other publications are doing the same, but the move, or lack thereof, is not without controversy and scrutiny, even among the Black or African-American community.

    SUPPORT

    Publications which have decided to use Black have answered those asking why only Black is capitalized and not white, saying that white is an “identifier of skin color, not shared experience” and capital White runs the risk of “following the lead of white supremacists.” Destinée-Charisse Royal, a senior staff editor with the Times, said that “capital B makes sense as it describes a race, a cultural group,” adding that “most of us do not have a specific African nation to link our ancestry back to.” One article noted that Black is in place of the “identifiable ethnicities” that were stolen from those in slavery:

    “This all makes for a good start, but it will mean nothing if white Americans don’t make an effort to understand the whys and wherefores—which is to say, the history that delivered us to this precise point in time.”

    Mike Laws, freelance copy editor, Columbia Journalism Review

    CRITICISM

    Civil rights activist Rev. Jesse L. Jackson has said that the focus should not be on color, but rather heritage, and has pushed for African-American to be used and emphasized. Some have asked if Black, why not Brown and White? In reply to the Times article, one letter to the editors read:

    “Imagine if we identified Indigenous Americans as ‘Reds’ or Asian-Americans as ‘Yellows.’ How does that sound? And how do we adequately explain the double standard of capitalizing ‘Black’ but not ‘white’? I am firmly convinced that changes in language arising from political motives are de facto suspect.”

    Anthony Mancini, Professor of Journalism, Brooklyn College

    Mancini went on to say that what we need is not more ways to divide, or token changes, but rather focus on real change.

    “I think we can be more revolutionary than to embrace the oppressor’s term for us.”

    Vilna Bashi Treitler, author of The Ethnic Project
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