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Why we capitalize Black when referring to people

Whenever the Mail Tribune refers to someone of African descent, Black is capitalized. When referring to someone of European descent, however, white is not capitalized. Why?

— Larry S., Jacksonville

The shortest answer is because the Mail Tribune follows the Associated Press Stylebook, which last month changed its guidelines by calling for the capitalizing the word Black when used to refer to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context, along with capitalizing the word Indigenous.

The June 19 AP Stylebook revision followed similar changes that week at news outlets including the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and NBC News. The Seattle Times and Boston Globe capitalized Black in late 2019.

John Daniszewski, the AP’s vice president for standards, wrote in a blog post that the capitalizations “align with long-standing capitalization of other racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American and Native American,” and the Stylebook revision came after “more than two years of in-depth research and discussion with colleagues and respected thinkers from a diversity of backgrounds.”

The research and discussion took on greater urgency after the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke said in a June 15 report.

So, why isn’t white capitalized when referring to a person?

Froke said that a description of a person as “white” generally does not carry cultural connotations. There’s also concern that a capitalized “white” has “associations in some minds with white nationalist or supremacist movements,” according to Froke.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.