When to Capitalize ‘Black’ and ‘White’

Leo Reynolds / Flickr

Author Touré will be discussing his new book “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?” at Busboys and Poets at 14th and V streets, NW tonight. The book is an interesting read delving into what it means to be black in America today, but even before you get to the meat of it, Touré includes this author’s note:

I have chosen to capitalize the word “Black” and lowercase “white” throughout this book. I believe “Black” constitutes a group, an ethnicity equivalent to African-American, Negro, or, in terms of a sense of ethnic cohesion, Irish, Polish, or Chinese. I don’t believe that whiteness merits the same treatment. Most American whites think of themselves as Italian-American or Jewish or otherwise relating to other past connections that Blacks cannot make because of the familial and national disruptions of slavery. So to me, because Black speaks to an unknown familial/national past it deserves capitalization.

Capitalizing “black” goes against the typical standard used by media outlets and outlined by the AP Stylebook (which DCentric abides by). But some believe both “black ” and “white” should be capitalized to defer respect and equity — Hispanic and Native American are capitalized, after all.

Such grammatical standards aren’t set in stone; it wasn’t that long ago that “Negro” was the preferred term. Sometimes popular word usage slowly evolves, and other times, specific movements seek to influence word usage. For instance, the “Drop the I-Word” campaign is pushing media outlets to stop using the term “illegal aliens.” (The Society of Professional Journalists recently joined their call).

What’s your take: do you believe “black” should be capitalized? What about “white?” Does it even matter?


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_P7XW7N5RYOJI33HHPL65GSPE5Q K

    Sorry to be a spelling geek but “Capatalize” in your headline should be “Capitalize.”

    On “Black” vs. “black”: Doesn’t matter one bit to me.

  • http://aalbc.com Troy Johnson

    K, you spelling geek you!  Your comment was probably the most important one made on this page :-)

  • Anonymous

    Oops, hit “approve” too quickly. Change made. Thanks!

  • http://aalbc.com Troy Johnson

    Funny, this comes up a lot. I’ve adopted the same convention on my website
    http://aalbc.com. I freely admit however that my logic for adopting this convention is flawed. Black and white are adjectives (even though no one on this earth is actually the color black or white) and should not be capitalized.

    The definition of “Black” is so nebulous, in 2011, that it is a virtually useless term, as the subject of Touré’s book seems to imply.  In any event, the two sloppy terms should be
    treated the same.  Generally Black is capitalized to elevate “Blackness” to demote “whiteness” a subtle dig.

  • Sam

    Toure’s logic assumes Italian Americans intermarry with same. Ditto for Jews, and thus also for Blacks. When does an Italian American become a non or barely Italian American? What happens when she marries a Turk?  or an Ethiopian?  What of their child? When does a Black become black or Brown or brown or au lait?   And do we desire that fade and greater inclusion someday?
    Story does raise an interesting question: do, should, must all Blacks define themselves foremost as Black and is the slavery legacy a premier characteristic for young Blacks today? Do whites already, quietly identify or assume their whiteness as premier? So premier, they don’t even frequently identify as white now but take some other category?

  • Anonymous

    Why do people need to “fade” in order to be included? Also, who is saying black people must foremost define themselves as black? I think Toure was making a distinction between race and ethnicity. In his book “Black” is being used equivalent to the terms Italian-American, African American, etc. whereas white is more so a generic racial designation that encompasses multiple ethnic backgrounds. Nothing too sociologically groundbreaking here.

  • http://knightleyemma.com Emma

    Why not capitalize Black?  A woman was killed last night in suburban MD, and her son is missing.  On the radio, they described him as “11 years old, African American and light-skinned.”  I assume the mom was white from this.