I was reading an article that I was assigned by my professor, and I came across the following:

“We’re the ones getting killed,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who is Black, said in an emotional postgame speech Tuesday night.

Is the usage of the capital B in "black" correct, is it incorrect, or does it fall into a completely different category altogether? Also, is it racist to say "black" with a capital B, but not for example, 'the white man' not using a capital W as I have seen in the past? And this is not a typo because it also turned up earlier in the article:

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot when police officers burst into her Louisville, Kentucky apartment using a no- knock warrant during a narcotics investigation on March 13.

Here is a link to the article: Article about BLM and sports

  • @SvenYargs Thank you for your answer and the other SE question.
    – Joe Kerr
    Nov 30 '20 at 23:20
  • I think this is a good question for this site to have, but it might be worth editing the title to include a reference to capitalisation, since in its current form it's not especially searchable from the title alone.
    – dbmag9
    Dec 1 '20 at 12:27
  • 1
    An obvious duplicate question: Are "white" and "black" ever capitalized when referring to people? Dec 1 '20 at 14:56
  • @EdwinAshworth Thank you for copying the link of that question in the chat. I did not see it when I wrote my question.
    – Joe Kerr
    Dec 1 '20 at 15:11
  • It's not a duplicate - the example and accepted answer here ("Black" vs "white") is pertinent to this particular time and is not answered in the other question. Dec 1 '20 at 16:41

Since you are quoting from what appears to be a U.S. newspaper article, its decision to capitalize black as Black when the word is used as a racial term probably reflects Associated Press style. That style has changed within the past six months, as explained in John Daniszewski, "The decision to capitalize Black" (June 19, 2020):

AP’s style is now to capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, conveying 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. The lowercase black is a color, not a person.

We also now capitalize Indigenous in reference to original inhabitants of a place.

These changes align with long-standing capitalization of other racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American and Native American. Our discussions on style and language consider many points, including the need to be inclusive and respectful in our storytelling and the evolution of language. We believe this change serves those ends.

I believe that the designation white as a racial term remains lowercase under current AP style preferences. This split in treatment may or may not persist over the long term—but it is by no means unheard of for style guides and dictionaries to treat similarly situated terms dissimilarly. Thus, for example, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2010), endorses policymaker (one word) but decision maker (two words).

In any event, the decisive authority of The Associated Press Stylebook ends in the editorial rooms of newspapers that are committed to enforcing its preferences. Writers and editors operating outside the authority of AP style can instead follow the dictates of some other style manual or even make their own decision regarding the initial-capping or lowercasing of either or both of these terms.

  • 2
    The last paragraph in this correct answer is particularly useful and insightful. It's worth bearing in mind it follows a turbulent political moment in the US wrt race relations and this particular reaction to it (capitalising one but not the other) will reflect the political and cultural mores of those pushing for and deciding the change, and doesn't necessarily reflect a wider cultural buy in. Dec 1 '20 at 11:54

Historically, names of racial/ethnic groups, such as "Africans" or "Caucasians", must be capitalized, while categories referring to a particular feature (such as "blacks" or "whites", referring to the skin color) are not. However, people referred to in the article are by no means "Africans" (they probably have been living in the US their whole life), so it makes sense to promote "Black" to a name of a racial group describing such people, and therefore capitalize it.

It is still possible to use "black" and "white" as categories referring to the skin color, e.g. "the white man" or "the black people", which are not capitalized.

  • But not promote 'white' similarly? Dec 1 '20 at 14:58
  • @EdwinAshworth You absolutely could promote "White" in a similar way from the language point of view. The reason AP didn't do it has more to do with politics than language. Apparently white people in the US are happy with being called Caucasians, even if they don't come from Caucasus. Dec 1 '20 at 15:10
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    But if one party is given the respect of name-capitalisation, isn't it divisive not to give all equivalent sets the same respect? Dec 1 '20 at 15:17
  • @EdwinAshworth In a perfect world that wouldn't have happened. In real world however, people who complain louder often get better treatment, and I'm not talking specifically about language or black people. Dec 2 '20 at 11:04
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    I'm just shouting quietly here. Dec 2 '20 at 12:03

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