At The Root, we’ve had a long-standing debate over capitalizing the “B” in black. Some of us are adamantly for it, while others (myself included) are grammar freaks who think that if we capitalize “black” we would also have to capitalize “white,” and I, personally, have no interest in that as it would continue to center whiteness. Besides, you already capitalize ethnicities such as African American or British, Latinx, Jamaican or Japanese. Colors are colors. But lately, coinciding with nationwide protests and corporate gestures, like saying “Black Lives Matter” on their social media and web sites, there has been some steam in the media world about capitalizing “black” in articles.
So far, USA Today, the LA Times and NBC News have elected to start capitalizing the letter “B.” And the National Association of Black Journalists agrees, stating:
For the last year, the National Association of Black Journalists(NABJ) has been integrating the capitalization of the word “Black” into its communications.
However, it is equally important that the word is capitalized in news coverage and reporting about Black people, Black communities, Black culture, Black institutions, etc.
NABJ’s Board of Directors has adopted this approach, as well as many of our members, and recommends that it be used across the industry.
We are updating the organization’s style guidance to reflect this determination. The organization believes it is important to capitalize “Black” when referring to (and out of respect for) the Black diaspora.
NABJ also recommends that whenever a color is used to appropriately describe race then it should be capitalized, including White and Brown.
Sounds nice! But no.
While the sentiment and idea are good, you know what would be better? If USA Today, the L.A. Times and NBC News released their diversity figures and offered up concrete plans and strategies to hire more black people and other people of color in their newsrooms, as that is the real problem, not the letter “B,” and whether or not it is capitalized.
And I’m not just talking on-air talent or news writers, but on all levels, from executive leadership to the interns—a real commitment to change.
In this present time, we are past passive, symbolic gestures from multinational corporations and media conglomerates. We need real dedication to diversity in our newsrooms to avoid fiascos like what has transpired at the New York Times over the past few weeks and other media organizations. That starts with a commitment to recruiting and hiring more black people, as well as more Latinx people, more Asian people, more Native people, etc. For too long, journalism has been a field dominated by white men, and specifically, wealthy white cis-gendered men, as journalism is not a high-paying profession. It helps if you have mommy and daddy to underwrite your career until it takes off (if it ever does), and that’s an option quite a few people do not have.
This is why we argue for paid internships and recruitment programs that bring more black people to newsrooms. This is why so many are demanding systemic change, not just superficial fixes that look nice, but ones that smash the status quo.
It’s time to destroy what has always been and build something new.
That starts with a diverse newsroom.
That starts with hiring and recruiting.
That starts with moving beyond the superficial and symbolic and finally, getting real and having the tough conversations on race.