Opinion: The decision to capitalize Black and not white


Around the U.S. and even around the world, public protests have been happening in response to police brutality. As videos and stories of systemic racism have come to light, companies all over the world are taking steps to create equality in their own environments.

The Associated Press is no different and has decided to update its stylebook — which The Daily Universe and all media organizations use — by capitalizing Black but not white when referencing race.

Other style guides have not followed suit — the Chicago Manual of Style has changed its preference to capitalize both Black and White for the sake of consistency, but has not created a strict stylistic rule on any race capitalization.

As copy editor here at The Daily Universe, and as an editing and publishing student, a writer for other BYU publications, and a white person, I support the AP’s decision to capitalize Black and not white.

For centuries, oppressors have tried to erase and invalidate Black people as individuals and the Black community as a whole. Sometimes these actions are obvious, like segregation and slavery, and sometimes they aren’t as transparent, like the idea that Black hairstyles and names are “unprofessional” and “ghetto.”

I will not pretend to understand the Black experience because I never will, but I can use my privilege to be an ally for people who have been silenced for years.

The term Black represents a shared culture and history in a way that white does not. White is also often capitalized by white supremacist groups and supporters of racist organizations like the KKK, and as a writer, I will take any step I can to distance myself from these groups.

Additionally, the capitalization of Black falls perfectly within the norm that writers use for other non-white groups like Asians, Latinos or Native Americans.

Capitalizing Black is a small step. Some might even call it insignificant or pandering. But the language we use matters and bleeds into every aspect of our lives.

A linguistics professor once taught me that “language is the one thing that people cannot fake.” The language that we use is telling of so many things: our education, our hometown, our age, and often, even our prejudices.

While we can’t fake our language, we can listen and learn. And I am choosing now, as a white person, to listen to the voices of Black people asking for change and take action in the ways that I can.

— Erin Johnston Goulding
Universe Copy Editor

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