Segregating capitalization by race is a slippery slope
Important questions begin with who, what, when, and why? Let's begin with those questions relating to journalists choosing to capitalize one race and not another.
Who determined that some journalists would choose to capitalize one race and not another? The Associated Press chose to capitalize Black for the Black race and not white for the white race. (Even in print, doesn't that sentence look grammatically unbalanced?)
What happened? Along with the AP, the "Columbia Journalism Review, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, NBC News and the Chicago Tribune are among the organizations that have said they would capitalize Black but have not done so for white."
When did this happen? According to an Associated Press communiqué dated July 20, 2020, "[a]fter 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.'"
Why is this happenin? One answer given is "'White doesn't represent a shared culture and history in the way Black does,' The New York Times said on July 5, 2020, in explaining its decision." Another reason given is this:
"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."
Grammatically and sensibly, there are many problems with this decision as well as questioning those journalists for making a race-based, grammatically irrational, and insensitive decision. This is an attempt to address some of the problems.
First, shouldn't grammarians, rather than journalists, make changes in grammar? Surely, their decisions would be more balanced, cogent, and sensible. Racial bias would not play a role in such a decision. Just think if all races were described by color — e.g., black, brown, red, white, yellow. Would Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow be capitalized but not white? When have race and culture ever determined grammar? Furthermore, color related to race is international, not national.
As to the New York Times' reason ("White doesn't represent a shared culture and history in the way Black does"), that is false. Entire races do not share the same cultures and histories.
Black Africans share very diverse cultures and histories, such as Ethiopians and Kenyans, Sudanese and Zulus, Hutus and Tanzanians. Chinese and Japanese don't share the same cultures or histories, nor do Vietnamese and Korean cultures. The journalists chose to think ethnically and narrowly — not racially and broadly. The White race is not alone in having diverse cultures and histories.
Regarding the AP vice president's statement ("But capitalizing the term white, as is done by white supremacists, risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs"), few Americans of any race know that white supremacists do this, as most Americans ignore these fringe, minority groups. Balancing capitalization of races hardly legitimizes ideology. Race and ideology are not synonymous. One is physical and unchangeable, and the other is mental and changeable.
And what about the AP's claim that "[w]e agree that white people's skin color plays into systemic inequalities and injustices"? Whoa! Is that really true of a whole race of people or merely of some? Skin color has nothing to do with slavery, oppression, or any other evil, as they are all shared equally in humankind and throughout history. The major problem here is that journalists are ignoring ancient and world history.
"The National Association of Black Journalists and some Black scholars have said white should be capitalized, too." Interestingly, Black journalists appear to be more sensitive to balanced, coherent, logical, and unbiased grammar. What a refreshing turnabout!
Grammatical correctness is a win-win for all people, regardless of race, rather than journalists' biased, harmful decisions. Honorable people are of all races, which demands equal grammar treatment. Expressed oral or written racial bias is wrong. Segregating capitalization by race is a slippery slope to be avoided at all costs.
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