THE Associated Press changed its writing style guide yesterday to capitalise the “b” in the term Black when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context, weighing in on a hotly debated issue.
The change conveys “an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African Diaspora and within Africa,” John Daniszewski, AP’s vice-president of standards, said in a blog post yesterday. “The lowercase black is a colour, not a person.”
The news organisation will also now capitalise Indigenous in reference to original inhabitants of a place.
Daniszewski said the revisions aligned with long-standing identifiers such as Latino, Asian American and Native American. He said the decision followed more than two years of research and debate among AP journalists and outside groups and thinkers.
“Our discussions on style and language consider many points, including the need to be inclusive and respectful in our storytelling and the evolution of language,” he wrote. “We believe this change serves those ends.”
The AP said it expects to make a decision within a month on whether to capitalise the term white. Among the considerations are what that change might mean outside the United States.
An ongoing debate over capitalisation of Black accelerated in many US newsrooms in recent weeks as journalists grappled with massive protests and sweeping changes in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police.
The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and NBC News last week embraced capitalisation, and the National Association of Black Journalists urged other news organisations to follow.
The AP stylebook of usage policies is highly influential in the industry, with many news organisations, government and public relations agencies using it as a guide.
The death of Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck, sparked nationwide protests and lent momentum to a variety of social changes, from police reform and the public removal of Confederate statues and flags to the capitalisation of Black.
“It’s certainly long overdue,” said Doris Truong, director of training and diversity at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank. “It’s something that people who are Black have been calling for for a long time.”
It’s also a relatively simple step for news organisations dealing anew with many complex issues, such as whether their journalists can be opinionated on social media or march in Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Nearly a century ago, sociologist W E B DuBois waged a letter-writing campaign to get newspapers to capitalise Negro, saying a lowercase “n” was a sign of disrespect and racism. The New York Times took his advice in 1930, calling it an act of recognition and respect for those who’d spent generations in “the lower case”.
Negro fell out of fashion with the Black Power movement of the 1960s, coming to symbolic subservience. African American was often used, but is not always accurate — some Black people don’t trace their lineage to Africa.
One Black scholar who published an open letter to the AP earlier this week calling for the capitalisation, said Friday he was pleased that the change happened on Juneteenth, which commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free – 155 years ago.