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‘Re: Racist ‘Journalist’’’: A question for the editor about why Orlando Weekly capitalizes Black

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Updated Saturday, 4:45 p.m. | On Friday, the Associated Press announced that AP writing style will be changed to capitalize the ''b'' in Black.

Re: Racist "Journalist":
Please explain why a "journalist" working for your paper chooses to capitalise the word "black" when referring to subjects' skin color or race, yet not the word "white"?

Other journalists writing for your paper do not follow this protocol.

Journalists are supposed to be non-biased. These articles are not op-eds. Even if they were, if one subject's skin color is going to be capitalised then all subjects' skin color must be capitalised.

You want to end racism? Then STOP focusing on skin color and focus on conduct. It is one's conduct that is important. Color does not matter – isn't that what the goal is?

Why not try leading by example.

Sincerely,
Simone Weaver

Good morning, Simone:

Thank you for writing. I appreciate your interest in our articles and questions about our house style.

In 2018, we decided to update our house style as pertains to racial descriptors. We were moved by the writings of many journalists of diverse cultural backgrounds, particularly the work of Lori Tharps, Eric Liu, Henry Fuhrmann and Aly Colón writing for the Poynter Institute. We understood that previous style systems at most American newspapers were shaped primarily by white, male journalists. In these updates, we joined the Brookings Institution, NBC News, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Boston Globe the Seattle Times and most other publications that are fellow members of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.

I have included our full stylebook entries below for your perusal, but the short answer to your question of why we capitalize Black is that Black people share an ethnic and racialized identity, making Black a proper adjective, whereas white is a common adjective used as a physical description of people with similar appearance, but whose backgrounds spring from many different cultures.

Black: denoting people who are part of the African diaspora. Capitalize Black as a reflection of shared cultures and experiences (foods, languages, music, religious traditions, etc.). Do not use as a singular or plural noun. When ethnicity is relevant to the story, ask the source what identifier they use. Note: Black is not necessarily synonymous with African American.

Latinx: people of Latin descent. The -X suffix reflects the fact that Latino and Latina are tied to gender binaries, while Latinx accommodates all people of Latin descent: male, female, and those who do not identify simply as one or the other. Gender is rarely integral in most uses of this adjective; this term allows journalists to use the adjective without unnecessarily gendering the subject. Do not use as a singular or plural noun. When ethnicity is relevant to the story, ask the source what identifier they use.

white: an adjective for people with light-colored skin, especially those of European descent. Unlike Black, it is lowercase, as its use is a physical description of people whose backgrounds spring from many different cultures. Capitalized "White" is often used by the white nationalist/white supremacist movement. Do not use as a singular or plural noun. When ethnicity is relevant to the story, ask the source which personal ethnic identifier they use.

A style guide is a living, dynamic document – not set in stone, but evolving with its readers and users to reflect the culture it serves. We like to think that we serve an educated and enlightened readership, and we strive to grow alongside them. We do not believe in rewriting history, so stories published before this change was made reflect an earlier style. As well, admittedly, with our tiny staff we don't always catch style errors, so you may see newer stories that don't conform.

While we're discussing the significance of one's style choices in writing, I wonder why you chose to put scare quotes around the word journalist in your message. Merriam-Webster defines quotation marks as punctuation marks that "indicate the beginning and the end of a quotation in which the exact phraseology of another or of a text is directly cited," which is not the case here; it defines scare quotes as "quotation marks used to express especially skepticism or derision concerning the use of the enclosed word or phrase."

Are you indicating skepticism of our writer, or derision? Both are certainly your prerogative in a country under the First Amendment, but neither is worthy of a respectful discussion.

Sincerely,
Jessica Bryce Young
Editor in chief, Orlando Weekly

This story appears in the June 17, 2020, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly newsletters.

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