No, You Really Shouldn’t Capitalize The “W” In White

Photo: ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock.
Amid Black Lives Matter protests and a reckoning against racism in the United States, the Washington Post is joining other news organisations, including the New York Times, the Associated Press, and the Los Angles Times, in capping the “B” in Black. But plot twist — the Post is also capitalising the “W” in white, unlike most other newsrooms who have made the style change. 
The decision was immediately panned on social media. “white is not a cultural identity,” tweeted writer Collier Meyerson. “name one distinctly white thing except for white supremacy.” L.A. Times correspondent Matt Pearce explained that he argued against a similar decision when his newsroom was discussing the change because “Nazis capitalise White in furtherance of their own pursuit of whiteness as a discrete historical identity that should be defined and protected.”
Advertisement
The move was foreshadowed last week in an op-ed the Post published by Nell Irvin Painter, author of The History of White People. In the piece, Painter argues that keeping “white” as lowercase allows white people to avoid having to racialise themselves — something many white people have been uncomfortable doing and which has allowed them to avoid having hard conversations about race in America and their (privileged) place within it. The National Association of Black Journalists agrees, as does writer Eve L. Ewing.  
The AP Stylebook explained on Twitter their reasoning for not capitalising the “W” in white, saying it was a more complicated decision to make than capitalising the “B” in Black. However, they noted that there were many arguments for capitalising Black, while there was less support and agreement for doing the same for “white.” 
“People who are Black have strong historical and cultural commonalities… that includes the shared experience of discrimination due solely to skin colour,” the Stylebook account tweeted. “White people generally do not share similar history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin colour.” 
When the New York Times made their decision earlier this month, they also decided not to cap up white, saying that “white doesn’t represent a shared culture and history in the way Black does, and also has long been capitalised by hate groups."
“To be parallel does make sense usage-wise when talking about grammar and usage, but we can never just go on these sorts of standards,” Destinée-Charisse Royal, a senior staff editor in the graphics department and one of the editors consulted on the change, told the New York Times. “Language doesn’t work that way. You have to consider the other factors.”

More from US News

R29 Original Series