Why we will lowercase white

by John Daniszewski, Vice President for Standards on July 20, 2020

AP style will continue to lowercase the term white in racial, ethnic and cultural senses. This decision follows our move last month to capitalize Black in such uses. We consulted with a wide group of people internally and externally around the globe and considered a variety of commentary in making these decisions.

There was clear desire and reason to capitalize Black. Most notably, people who are Black have strong historical and cultural commonalities, even if they are from different parts of the world and even if they now live in different parts of the world. That includes the shared experience of discrimination due solely to the color of one’s skin.

There is, at this time, less support for capitalizing white. White people generally do not share the same history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color. In addition, we are a global news organization and in much of the world there is considerable disagreement, ambiguity and confusion about whom the term includes.

We agree that white people’s skin color plays into systemic inequalities and injustices, and we want our journalism to robustly explore those problems. But capitalizing the term white, as is done by white supremacists, risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs.

Some have expressed the belief that if we don’t capitalize white, we are being inconsistent and discriminating against white people or, conversely, that we are implying that white is the default. We also recognize the argument that capitalizing the term could pull white people more fully into issues and discussions of race and equality. We will closely watch how usage and thought evolves, and will periodically review our decision.

As the AP Stylebook currently directs, we will continue to avoid the broad and imprecise term brown in racial, ethnic or cultural references. If using the term is necessary as part of a direct quotation, we will continue to use the lowercase.

For more details, see the AP Stylebook’s race-related coverage guidance, which says in part: “Consider carefully when deciding whether to identify people by race. Often, it is an irrelevant factor and drawing unnecessary attention to someone’s race or ethnicity can be interpreted as bigotry.”

The guidance also says:

Reporting and writing about issues involving race calls for thoughtful consideration, precise language, and an openness to discussions with others of diverse backgrounds about how to frame coverage or what language is most appropriate, accurate and fair. 

Avoid broad generalizations and labels; race and ethnicity are one part of a person’s identity. Identifying people by race and reporting on actions that have to do with race often go beyond simple style questions, challenging journalists to think broadly about racial issues before having to make decisions on specific situations and stories.

In all coverage — not just race-related coverage — strive to accurately represent the world, or a particular community, and its diversity through the people you quote and depict in all formats. Omissions and lack of inclusion can render people invisible and cause anguish.

For AP coverage of racial injustice issues: https://apnews.com/Racialinjustice 

Suggestions for the AP Stylebook team may be submitted online.

 

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