Why Capitalizing Black Is Important

The Associated Press Stylebook — or AP Style — is the go-to source for the appropriate language, phrasing and references to use in journalistic writing.

According to AP Style, “black” and “white” cannot be used as a singular noun, and when used in their plural form, they should define a group (e.g., black people, white people, black communities, white communities, etc.).

But AP Style doesn’t think that those terms should be capitalized even though other racial and ethnic groups like “Asian” and “Latinx” are routinely capitalized.

We disagree, and we’re not alone. Several national news organizations and racial equity organizations think “Black” and “White” should be capitalized when referencing people. Here’s why.

Black doesn’t just refer to a color; it represents the racial identity and history of Black Americans. As writer and professor Lori L. Tharps argued in The New York Times, “Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora. Lowercase black is simply a color.”

Even Black journalists are advocating for this industry change.

When USA Today explained its style shift, they wrote: “Capitalizing Black reflects an understanding and respect that is consistent with how many Black people and Black publications describe the people and descendants of the African diaspora and reflects a rich range of shared cultures.”

It is important that communicators start to demonstrate people-first values and set new guidelines for how to discuss communities with dignity, accuracy and inclusion. If AP Style removed the hyphen between African American, then they can make this adjustment as well.

Times are changing. Not only do we need to shift our thinking regarding our language choices when talking about issues related to race, diversity, equity and inclusion, but we need to start paying respect through our grammar choices too.