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  • Writer's pictureEmily Johnson

What and when to capitalize – it’s not black and white

When referring to race, grammarians reached a general consensus after the murder of George Floyd to capitalize “Black,” but whether or not to do so when referencing “white” and “brown” as they relate to race continues to be up for debate. (Jenelle Montoya LinkedIn Post).

Rationales for both sides of the argument are logical, and while there is no consensus among style guides, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) recommends capitalizing “White” and “Brown” when they are used to describe race. (NABJ Statement). The Washington Post agrees with capitalizing “White” but does not capitalize “brown” (Washington Post writing style changes). while the New York Times (NYT style terms) and Associated Press (AP announcement) do not capitalize either.

Here are the thoughts of current and former Tikkun Grant Advancement writers.


 

Tiffany Dykes

When I first started to do this [capitalize “Black”] it was more of an act of rebellion than anything. I feel like white doesn’t need to be capitalized for the reasons mentioned in the initial LinkedIn post. I also think it has a lot to do with white often being synonymous with “the norm” or dominant culture. Capitalizing Black and Brown feels like push back.


Vashalice Kaaba

I wrote a disclaimer in my Master thesis justifying why Black should be capitalized as well as other POC races, while in turn lowercasing the "w" in White. Master Thesis disclaimer:

"As a cultural and grammatical disclaimer, the "B" in Black and "A" in African-American will be uppercased, while lowercasing the "w" in "white" as it pertains to a race of people or their culture...

The reasoning in doing this will align with scholar Lori L. Thompson who states: This is about identity and respect. With a mere slash of a copyeditor's pen, my culture is reduced to a color. It seems silly to have to spell it out, that Black with a lowercase "b" is a color. In contrast, Black with a capital "B" refers to a group of people whose ancestors were born in Africa, was brought to the United States against their will, spilled their blood, sweat, and tears to build this nation into a world power and along the way managed to create glorious works of art, passionate music, scientific discoveries, a marvelous cuisine, and untold literary masterpieces (Price, 2019). Likewise, the same will be done for other marginalized racial groups (Latinx/o/a Asian, Native, and Indigenous) mentioned in an above-stated manner. The "w" in white as it pertains to white people and "white dominant culture" is defined as the overall American culture that reflects white American culture and shows influences from English culture while having colonial ties to Great Britain and the spread of the English language, legal system and other cultural attributes (Minahan, 2013) will be lowercase as symbolic of decentralization.

...While the voices of white scholars in the text's subject are salient, it is essential to note that their voices are still dominant. In lowercasing "w," I seek to call attention to this and push against the historical and present narrative of marginalized voices going unnoticed and unheard..."

Howard, V. (2020). Them who have ears, let them hear: A qualitative analysis of African-American vernacular English used in Black children’s literature audiobook narration performances. Iowa State University.


Leanna Aldis

I am a Latina. I identify as Hispanic and am part of the Brown community. My mother is a brown-skinned Mexican and my father is a white American. Because of this, I am also a part of the White community, even though I know I will never be fully accepted as White. Having said that, I feel as though I am discounting half of who I am if I do not use that capital when defining myself or others like me. With regard to white supremacy and abuse of power, I cannot allow this to define who I am or how I am seen and so I choose to honor both sides of who I am today.

 

Thank you to Jenelle Montoya, the original poster, for starting this provocative, important conversation.

Thoughts? Comment below, or join the discussion on LinkedIn.

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