“I’m more than a color. I’m not purple, yellow or gray. I am Black, capital B. It’s my everything.”
That’s what a source said to me as I reported on their experience with racism and microaggressions on the University of Georgia’s campus.
In the past few months, almost every one of my sources told me that they felt the same — “black” instead of “Black” is disrespectful. As I attempted to amplify Black voices, The Red & Black was following the Associated Press Stylebook: a journalism industry writing guide that effectively diminished the Black community’s power and identity. It didn’t feel right.
It didn’t feel right that my ethnicity—Latina—was capitalized, but I had to deny my Black sources this simple request.
The Red & Black, among most media outlets, follows the writing guidelines set by AP style, which up until June 19 advised to lowercase the “b” in Black when referring to someone’s race.
However, on June 16 as an editorial board, we reopened our conversation about capitalizing Black — the decision came quickly. We discussed the importance of a capital “B,” as many Black Americans identify as Black racially, ethnically and culturally.
Together, we decided this was the best way to respect the Black community in our writing.
On May 25, the deaths of George Floyd and others in the Black community ignited protests against racial injustice and police brutality across the country. As a result, media outlets across the nation updated their policies to capitalize Black, including NBC, TIME, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Boston Globe, BuzzFeed News, the USA Today Network, Business Insider, HuffPost, McClatchy, Chicago Sun-Times and others.
Black media outlets, such as Essence and Ebony magazine, have already capitalized Black. On June 11, The National Association of Black Journalists also officially recommended that publications capitalize Black in reference to someone’s race.
AP style is a writing guideline for journalists that is updated every other year. These guidelines are a reference for journalists on everything from punctuation rules and abbreviations to larger issues of context and connotation.
On June 19, the AP stylebook announced it would capitalize the “b” in Black in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense. The announcement came on Juneteenth, observed on June 19 each year, which celebrates the emancipation of slaves in the United States.
“Wow. I remember when as a young reporter, this was drilled out of me. I could not get a copy published with a capital “b” in black because it wasn’t AP Style,” New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones said on Twitter. “Black American is an ethnic group and now it’s finally being recognized as such. This is big.”
Wow. I remember when as a young reporter, this was drilled out of me. I could not get copy published with a a capital “b” in black because it wasn’t AP Style. Black American is an ethnic group and now it’s finally being recognized as such. This is big. https://t.co/QGozs7k1ZC— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) June 20, 2020
The majority of news outlets in the U.S. will now capitalize Black—just like they’ve done for other races and ethnicities—which is a step forward, although one that should’ve happened years ago.
In the journalism industry, the case to capitalize “b” has been argued before, and Black journalist Lori L. Tharps explained it best in 2014.
“When a copyeditor deletes the capital ‘B,’ they are in effect deleting the history and contributions of my people,” Tharps said.
Now that The Red & Black and AP Stylebook will capitalize Black, reporters no longer have to say no to Black sources when they ask for this simple request. It isn’t controversial or complex — journalists have a job to listen to the voices of others.
As reporters, we have an obligation to recognize an entire race, ethnicity and culture requesting recognition and respect.
It is a privilege to tell their stories.
Like one of my sources said, “Black is more than a color or a simple word. This is my identity and my culture, so respect my identity.”