News & Politics

The Associated Press Just Updated Its Stylebook, and It’s Kind of Racist

FILE - This Tuesday, April 26, 2016 file photo shows The Associated Press logo in New York. The Associated Press is teaming with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education to expand its coverage of science, medicine and health journalism. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

The Associated Press announced on Friday in a blog post that it has updated its writing style to capitalize the word “black” when it’s used “in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, conveying 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.”

“The lowercase black is a color, not a person,” John Daniszewski, the Vice President for Standards added. The word “indigenous” will also be capitalized when used in reference to the original inhabitants of a place.

According to Daniszewski, these changes “align with long-standing capitalization of other racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American and Native American.”

The change itself probably makes some degree of sense, but is the Associated Press actually trying to make a reasonable change about capitalizing color terminology for races, or is it trying to be “woke” by only having one race capitalized? But if the AP is going to capitalize one color terminology for a racial group, shouldn’t all color terminologies be capitalized as well?

Here’s what the AP’s style guide says for race-related coverage:

Black(s), white(s) (n.) Do not use either term as a singular noun. For plurals, phrasing such as Black people, white people, Black teachers, white students is often preferable when clearly relevant. White officers account for 64% of the police force, Black officers 21% and Latino officers 15%. The gunman targeted Black churchgoers. The plural nouns Blacks and whites are generally acceptable when clearly relevant and needed for reasons of space or sentence construction. He helped integrate dance halls among Blacks, whites, Latinos and Asian Americans. Black and white are acceptable as adjectives when relevant.

Black (adj.) Use the capitalized term as an adjective in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies, Black colleges.

So, according to the Associated Press, “Black people” is correct, but “White people” isn’t?  What about “Brown people?” Though not as commonly used as “black” or “white,” “brown” is still used to represent people of certain origins, but AP style specifically recommends avoiding use of the term.

David Lanham, director of communications for the Brooking Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, had called for the AP to make the style change earlier this week:

In recent weeks, we have seen Black Americans give voice to the injustices and lack of respect they’ve endured since the founding of our country. Millions of non-Black protesters, in cities large and small, have now taken to the streets to amplify those calls for justice and respect.

Yet a simple way to demonstrate that respect—capitalizing the word “Black”—continues to elude many institutions.

Lanham later echoed the respect argument after the change was made. “Not having a capital letter has felt disrespectful,” said David Lanham told the Associated Press. “There is a shared cultural identity with Black Americans and that goes through our shared experiences. That also goes to the lack of geographic history as a result of slavery.”

The Associated Press noted in its own story on the style change, “Nearly a century ago, sociologist W.E.B. DuBois waged a letter-writing campaign to get newspapers to capitalize 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.'”

So, let’s ask the uncomfortable question: Why is one color terminology capitalized and the others not? Latham’s open letter pointed to a 2014 op-ed in the New York Times by Temple University journalism professor Lori L. Tharps, in which she wrote “When speaking of a culture, ethnicity or group of people, the name should be capitalized. Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora. Lowercase black is simply a color.”

So, what about “white” or “brown”? Why didn’t the Associated Press change their style to capitalize those words when used in a racial, ethnic or cultural context? Lowercase white is simply a color. Lowercase brown is simply a color. Don’t also races deserve equal respect?

Just look at this sample sentence from the Associated Press as a properly styled sentence:

He helped integrate dance halls among Blacks, whites, Latinos and Asian Americans.

The sample sentence from the Associated Press leaves “whites” conspicuously lower-case amongst other racial groups. If capitalization is about respect, do all races deserve respect except for white people? Imagine, for a second, if the sentence looked like this:

He helped integrate dance halls among blacks, Whites, Latinos and Asian Americans.

Wouldn’t the following version be more consistent?

He helped integrate dance halls among Blacks, Whites, Latinos and Asian Americans.

What’s the big deal? Well, maybe it isn’t. Except that right now it seems that we are being bombarded with messaging about the inherent evils of whiteness and white people. If the lower-case “b” was such an insult to Black people, then why shouldn’t the lower-case “w” be an insult to White people, or the lower-case “b” be an insult to Brown people? Right now the Associated Press is affirming the idea that certain racial groups deserve respect, while others don’t.

Perhaps they should start capitalizing the “w” in Woke.

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Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis

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