(Photo by: Shutterstock/fizkes)

Why Capitalizing the ‘B’ in Black Still Matters for Cultural Competence and Accurate Representation

With the Black Lives Matter movement still in full force, corporations paying more attention to diversity and inclusion, and leaders of African descent being placed in the forefront, the debate about the capitalization of “Black” in mainstream media has been one of high significance. Cultural identity has been at the center of discussions on racial equality and justice, and major media companies have been put to task for appropriate representation of the communities they report on and serve.

Global mainstream news outlets including The New York Times and the Associated Press have just recently taken deliberate stances in changing their style guides to mandate the capitalization of the word “Black” in reference to people of African descent—efforts Black publications have practiced and pushed for centuries.

DiversityInc Chairman             Luke Visconti

In June 2020, the premier source of media content style and writing guidelines—The Associated Press—finally changed its style guide to capitalize the “b” in the term Black when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context, the organization reported

However, DiversityInc has been capitalizing the “b” in Black for more than 10 years, deeming the change ideal then and now.

Why was this a vital move? Why does it matter?

DiversityInc Chairman Luke Visconti shares telling insights on why the decision was made and the importance of accuracy and proper representation in the media. Read his insights below: 

Most mainstream print publications in the United States use what is known as “AP style,” or the style dictated by The Associated Press Stylebook. This book and website describe what to capitalize and what not to capitalize (among other rules of grammar).

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I made the decision not to follow AP style in the case of “Black” and “white” when it applies to describing people in 2009. AP style is (was) to capitalize neither; however, terms such as African American, Negro, Caucasian, Italian American or Asian are all capitalized.

Regardless of whether there is adequate representation among the decision-makers at the AP, I felt DiversityInc needed to be more accurate.

The word “Black” is used around the world to describe people who have “racial” features indicating African ancestry. Please keep in mind that the convention of race has been discarded by science–genetically, we are all one race, and the human-genome project proves we are all from Africa.

“Black” is also accepted by many Black people as an inoffensive description. It is a generalized description and can be supplemented by another description such as Black Canadian, Black African American, Nigerian American or Black Latino. However, many Black people describe themselves simply as being “Black,” and this reality is reflected in a body of literature, music, and academic study.

I do not believe “white” needs to be capitalized because people in the white majority don’t think of themselves in that way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this – it’s just how it is. The exception is white supremacists who have a definite vision for what “White” means–and they capitalize the W.

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Most American white people describe themselves in terms such as Irish American or Jewish. I will make the point that African Americans (descendants of slaves) cannot define themselves more accurately than an entire continent because their ancestry was obliterated by the practices of enslavers, which included breaking apart tribal and family bonds.

I don’t think there will ever be a time in our country where “white” becomes “White,” nor do I think white people will accept the term “minority” when we become less than 50 percent of our population by roughly 2045. I think that’s a good thing. People should be allowed to describe themselves, not have descriptions forced on them. I also think that the term “minority” is a pejorative and has no place in describing people.

Our capitalization of “Black” is both a reflection of reality and of respect. Opinions will differ on this, but as long as I make the decisions on editorial policy and content at DiversityInc, this is how this publication will write “Black” and “white.”

Luke Visconti’s column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and Chairman of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

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