We received notice from The Associated Press on Friday of a style change that no doubt readers will notice, and I wanted to offer my take on it.
The Telegraph Herald, like most newspapers, treats the AP Stylebook like a bible. It’s a collection of rules and guidelines we follow for capitalization, abbreviations, usage and all things words related. It helps us be consistent. In some cases, we depart from AP Style, adopting our own rule, but for the most part, we adhere to it.
On Friday, AP made the move to begin capitalizing the “b” in “Black” when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context. A blog post by John Daniszewski, AP’s vice president of standards, put it this way: 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.”
Before you think this was a completely reactionary move, know that AP has been discussing making this change for two years, getting input from multiple sources. I’m sure the events of recent weeks following the killing of George Floyd influenced AP editors to reach a decision, though. Furthermore, several news agencies made the move ahead of AP and urged the AP style gurus to do the same.
You don’t have to be a journalist to know the obvious follow-up question: What about “white”? Well, AP is still wrestling with that one and expects to have an announcement in the next few weeks.
I do understand that the inconsistency looks weird. For example, here are a couple of sentences that were in Clarence Page’s column Sunday: In 1965, Moynihan and others were understandably alarmed that 24% of Black infants and 3.1% of white infants were born to single moms. Unfortunately, by 1990, the rate rose to 64% for Black infants and 18% for whites — and continued to climb.
Or this headline in Sunday’s paper: 2 white men face charges in assault of Black man.
We editors like consistency, so that feels a little weird to me. But when you think about the reasoning behind it, I think it makes sense. There’s not necessarily a shared sense of history and identity among white people in the way there is among Black people.
Similarly, AP also has begun to capitalize “Indigenous” in reference to the original inhabitants of a place. Again, there’s that shared cultural history that doesn’t really exist among white people.
Not everyone will agree with this decision, I realize. That’s why AP debated it for two years. But language must evolve along with changes in thinking. And we as a nation are in the midst of a period of rethinking the way we do things on many fronts. The National Association of Black Journalists urged news organizations to make the change. I respect those calling for this change, and we will abide by it.
Maybe the inconsistency will look odd to readers as well. As I said, I know what you mean. But that inconsistency didn’t seem like a good enough reason not to make the change. We’ll be watching for AP’s decision on the use of “white” in the context of race, and I’ll keep you posted.