I was surprised to find that there's a growing convention of capitalizing the word "black" when referring to the race, i.e.:

A Black person.

I thought this was wrong, because I thought it was only proper nouns, like cultures, nationalities and ethnicities, that were to be capitalized. Black denotes a race, and nothing more, as there are many nationalities, cultures and ethnicities that fall within the black race. Calling black a culture or ethnicity would be reductive.

However, this capitalization rule apparently applies to race as well; see the 10th item here.

If this rule is in fact true, then that means black is to be capitalized when denoting a person of the black race. It also means that white is to be capitalized when denoting a person of the white race. Caucasian, which is a word denoting a race, is capitalized. It is a synonym to white.

So, if Caucasian is capitalized, and if people want black to be capitalized when referring to race, why isn't white supposed to be capitalized? Is white not a race? I'm no biologist, nor anthropologist, but if white is too genetically broad to be considered a race, then I'm pretty sure black would be too.

EDIT: As user Cascabel pointed out in the comments, Caucasian is derived from the Caucasus Mountains, which is a place, and therefore a proper noun. Therefore, regardless of what capitalization rules one employs, Caucasian has to be capitalized, and is therefore not necessarily an example of people capitalizing racial classification.


CMS have changed their preferred capitalization rules as of the 17th edition, which means that the answers to the linked post that this post was designated a duplicate of, are no longer valid.

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    You appear to refer to a recent trend which sees the term Black capitalized when referring to people or race. So why not White accordingly. That’s a POB issue at best.
    – user 66974
    Apr 5, 2021 at 18:07
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    There's a lot more that needs to be said about this than comes in a comment to a closed question, but 1) Orthography is a convention. 2) Not everything must be consistent in a convention. 3) There is a reason for (currently) deciding for the convention to change to Black and white. none of these are obvious, but I think (in the US) 'Black' is not a literal, it refers to those of African descent from the slave trade, and is capitalized because people realized it is comparable to Asians, Mormons, British. And 'white' is not capitalized for the same reason, it's not an ethnicity (within the US).
    – Mitch
    Apr 5, 2021 at 18:30
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    @Mitch off-topic.... I used to know some people that live in the US who are of Haitian descent, who took exception to the term African-American. And I had a Jamaican ex-roommate once who claimed he was "African by way of Jamaica" to my new roommate who was actually from South Africa. When asked "Do you speak Shangan, or Zulu, or Xhosa?" He replied, and I quote, "Hunnh?" ... "Then you aren't fckn African! You're just another black fella." Apr 5, 2021 at 18:43
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    @Mitch: You can still post an answer if you want. 'When a question is closed, the server still accepts answers for 4 hours'. Apr 5, 2021 at 18:50
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    "Black is not literal, it refers to those of African descent from the slave trade...". That is a very US-centric notion. What would you call a person that is born, raised and living in Africa? Would they not be black? I agree that "black" in the context of classifying people is not always used literally. However, I think it is wrong to use "black" as anything else than either a signifyer of skin color, or as the name of a race. If the latter, than it can be capitalized, but it is no more eligible for capitalization than "white" when used as the name of the race. @Mitch
    – A. Kvåle
    Apr 5, 2021 at 20:00

1 Answer 1


One explanation for the discrepancy is offered by Nell Irvin Painter in their opinion piece for the Washington Post

These two identities don’t simply mirror each other — one works through a pronounced group identity [Black]; the other more often is lived as unraced individuality [white]. However much you might see yourself as an individual, if you’re black, you also have to contend with other people’s views. W.E.B. Du Bois summed this up as “twoness,” as seeing yourself as yourself but also knowing that other people see you as a black person. You don’t have to be a black nationalist to see yourself as black.

In contrast, until quite recently white Americans rarely saw themselves as raced — as white. Most of them, anyway. The people who have embraced “white” as a racial identity have been white nationalists, Ku Klux Klansmen and their ilk.

In July 20 2020 the following statement was released [emphasis in bold mine.]

NEW YORK (AP) — After 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.”

The AP said white people in general have much less shared history and culture, and don’t have the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color. […]
CBS News said it would capitalize white, although not when referring to white supremacists, white nationalists or white privilege.

Some proponents believe that keeping white lowercase is actually anti-Black, saying it perpetuates the idea that whites are the default race.

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    Thanks for giving me the heads up about the 4 hour grace period... Apr 5, 2021 at 19:12
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    Could the naysayers please come back and delete their DVs? I am not asking for an upvote, just a revision. Apr 5, 2021 at 19:22
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    @Cascabel No, my aim was to validate the Community-wiki post. This answer is basically a duplicate, albeit more nuanced and detailed, of another in the older question. Feel free to reopen. I won't protest.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 5, 2021 at 19:37
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    @Cascabel We can update older posts too. There's even an SE badge called the Necromancer which encourages this behaviour. Still, I wasn't expecting the OP to agree with my judgement call, I mean not as quickly as they did.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 5, 2021 at 19:49
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    @Cascabel: A very similar question arose less than five months ago: Is "Black" correct, incorrect, or could it be used as either "Black" or "black"? I posted an answer to that question because the Associated Press's style guideline on the question had recently changed and the older question didn't include any answers addressing that change.
    – Sven Yargs
    Apr 5, 2021 at 20:23

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