"So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.’”
– Acts 10:34
It should be as simple as black and white, or Black and White.
After the killing of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis and the protests that followed, The Associated Press decided it would begin capitalizing Black in reference to skin color. However, it also decided that it would not do the same with white, saying “white people in general have much less shared history and culture, and don’t have the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color.”
John Daniszewski, the AP’s vice president for standards, also said capitalizing white “risks subtly conveying legitimacy” to white supremacy.
Even though we generally follow AP style, its reasoning for changing one and not the other seemed shaky at best, especially if our goal is to unite rather than do more things to separate the races. It also seemed like we would be saying to you as readers that we do not trust you to be able to tell the difference between a white person and a white supremacist.
So my decision as editor was to keep both black and white lowercase. My primary justification was that both black and white are only descriptive words, noting skin color and not nationality. From that standpoint, they are at least somewhat different than Latino, Asian, Hispanic or even Native American.
What the decision caused me to do was try to catch every instance of black or white as a racial reference in any AP article we ran and lowercase the B. Sometimes some slipped into the paper. It also caused me to think about my choice every time I had to change one.
While whether the B and W are uppercase or lowercase might not be a big deal to you, some of us editors tend to second- and third-guess even the smallest decisions that we make.
Because of that, it’s possible that you’ve noticed that my position on black and white has shifted. We now refer to them as Black and White, putting both on even ground with references to other races. That seems to be the most fair thing to do, and my goal is to always try to be just.
The clincher for me might have been Native American. Although that has become the preferred terminology in journalism for American Indians, native is just a descriptive word like black and white. There is nothing inherent in native that causes it to be a proper noun. You might be a native of Searcy, but you are not a Native of Searcy.
Racial references like Hispanic and Latino also are capitalized only because our country/writers chose to do them that way. So why not Black and White as well?
Making them all the same, including for those sometimes identified as Brown, would seem to simplify the process and keep any race from feeling like it is being treated as less important than others by the media. (Well, it won’t stop that, but it prevents media from doing something that absolutely does differentiate and legitimizes accusations of bias or discrimination.)
As much as most of us would like everyone to be seen as equals in our nation, we still live in a divided country where racism rears its ugly head just when some of us think things are getting better.
If we ever hope to make civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream come true, and “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood,” then we have to draw attention to things that bring us together, not those that divide us. Making a distinction between Black and White, no matter how well-intentioned it might be, only serves to put another level of division between races.
Heading into a new year, my hope in writing this column is that other newspapers will make the same choice this newspaper has, and united together we can convince the AP, which a lot of us use as a wire service, to fix its discrepancy so we don’t have to continue fixing it for them.
It may be just a minor change without much of an impact on society, but if we want to foster equality, if we want to get to the point where we truly don’t see things in black and white, then how we choose to refer to them should be as simple as Black and White.