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Associated Press: Won't capitalize 'white'

by DAVID BAUDER THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | July 21, 2020 at 5:04 a.m.

NEW YORK -- After changing its usage rules last month to capitalize the word "Black" when used in the context of race and culture, The Associated Press on Monday said it would not do the same for "white."

In announcing the decision, the AP said white people in general have much less shared history and culture, and don't have the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color.

Protests following the death of George Floyd, which led to discussions of policing and Confederate symbols, also prompted many news organizations to examine their own practices and staffing. The Associated Press, whose Stylebook is widely influential in the industry, announced June 19 it would make Black uppercase.

In some ways, the decision over "white" has been more ticklish. The National Association of Black Journalists and some Black scholars have said white should be capitalized, too.

"We agree that white people's skin color plays into systemic inequalities and injustices, and we want our journalism to robustly explore these problems," John Daniszewski, the AP's vice president for standards, said in a memo to staff Monday. "But capitalizing the term white, as is done by white supremacists, risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs."

In announcing the decision to uppercase Black on June 19, Daniszewski wrote in a blog post that 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," adding: "The lowercase black is a color, not a person."

Daniszewski said the decision followed more than two years of research and debate among AP journalists and outside groups and thinkers.

Columbia Journalism Review, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, NBC News and Chicago Tribune are among the organizations that have recently said they would capitalize Black but have not done so for white.

"White doesn't represent a shared culture and history in the way Black does," The New York Times said on July 5 in explaining its decision.

The Seattle Times and Boston Globe both changed their practices to capitalize Black late last year. The Globe explained that the word has evolved from a description of a person's skin color to signify a race and culture, and deserves the uppercase treatment much the way other ethnic terms do.

However, other media outlets, including CNN, Fox News and The San Diego Union-Tribune, have said they will give white the uppercase, noting it was consistent with Black, Asian, Latino and other ethnic groups. Fox cited the National Association of Black Journalists' advice.

CBS News said it would capitalize white, although not when referring to white supremacists, white nationalists or white privilege.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Managing Editor Eliza Hussman Gaines said the newspaper will continue to follow AP's style of not capitalizing white.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in general, follows the style guidelines set by The Associated Press for the sake of consistency. After careful consideration, newsroom leaders decided last month to adopt AP Style on capitalizing Black when referring to people of common ethnicity, background or culture.

The AP said it checked with a variety of experts and sources in making its decision not to capitalize white.

"We will closely watch how usage and thought evolves, and will periodically review our decision," Daniszewski said.

Some proponents believe that keeping white lowercase is actually anti-Black, saying it perpetuates the idea that whites are the default race.

"Whiteness remains invisible, and as is the case with all power structures, its invisibility does crucial work to maintain its power," wrote Eve Ewing, a sociologist of race and education at the University of Chicago, who said she's changed her mind on the issue over the past two years.

"In maintaining the pretense of its invisibility, whiteness maintains the pretense of its inevitability, and its innocence," she wrote on the website Nora.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosophy professor at New York University, wrote in the Atlantic that capitalizing white would take power away from racists, since their similar use "would no longer be a provocative defiance of the norm."

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