I have previously noted how the Associated Press surrendered to political correctness on language, saying that, when referring to race, it will capitalize “black” but leave “white” in lower-case.
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.
Protests following the death of George Floyd, which led to discussions of policing and Confederate symbols, also prompted many news organizations to examine their own practices and staffing. The Associated Press, whose Stylebook is widely influential in the industry, announced June 19 it would make Black uppercase.
In some ways, the decision over “white” has been more ticklish. The National Association of Black Journalists and some Black scholars have said white should be capitalized, too.
“We agree that white people’s skin color plays into systemic inequalities and injustices, and we want our journalism to robustly explore these problems,” Daniszewski said. “But capitalizing the term white, as is done by white supremacists, risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs.”
I found the whole thing not only obviously silly, but poor grammar. The use of “white” or “black” is simply shorthand for large racial groups, Caucasian and Negro, which are properly capitalized. Irish or French should be capitalized, as they refer to the inhabitants of countries as well as ethnic groups, while white should not be. Similarly, I would capitalize Kenyan or African, but not black.
And now The Philadelphia Inquirer has provided, through its apparent adoption of the Associated Press stylebook, the silliness of it. In an article entitled “Why the term ‘legal votes’ is racist,” Jeffrey Barg wrote:
News media use the descriptor Black three times as much as white, which normalizes white and others Black. Similarly, legal vote others ballots from areas that aren’t predominantly white.
One would thing that a writer who styles himself The Angry Grammarian would have the capitalization of “Black” without a similar capitalization of “white” almost jump off the page at him as an obvious error. More, it would be discordantly harsh on the perceptions of the reader, especially the white reader whom one would expect Mr Barg to wish to influence.
Then again, one would not expect someone who claims to be a “grammarian” to write sentences such as, “It’s the insinuation of illegality in service of eliminating Black votes”, or “Adding the adjective legal implies the presence of illegal votes, which lawsuits, the Department of Justice, and even super-sleuth Rudy Giuliani have been unable to provide evidence of.”
Then, in the article “Haverford students end strike after getting demands met,” Inquirer writer Susan Snyder wrote, “But concerns about the college’s treatment of Black and brown students had been mounting long before the college leaders sent the email”, and “Raymond, who is white, announced last week that she would step down as the interim chief diversity officer, a position she didn’t intend to keep, and that provost Linda Strong-Leek, who is Black, would step into the position.”
I suppose that the Associated Press’ and the Inquirer’s stylebook failed to consider whether “brown,” when used as a racial identifier, should be capitalized. One wonders: will “brown” readers of the Inquirer be offended?
In the end, the decision by the Associated Press, one followed by many but not all media organizations, paid homage to political correctness, but wound up exposing the folly of it. In arriving at their decision, the AP might have limited their discussions to what they said in their press statement, but when the stylebook change effects are seen in print, in actual stories meant to inform or persuade the reader, the ridiculousness of it becomes apparent.
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