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Capitalizing 'Black'

All the major style guides now recommend capitalizing "Black" when you're referring to people.

By
Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read
The Quick And Dirty

Capitalize "Black" when referring to people: Let's elevate Black voices.

Capitalizing 'Black'

A flurry of style guides have updated their entries on the word “Black” in the last few weeks, and they all say to capitalize it. The AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, the AMA Manual of Style, APA style, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Seattle Times, the Boston Globe, NBC News, and probably a bunch more that I missed all say to capitalize “Black” when describing a person and not a general color. 

Some of those style guides and publications may have already done it that way for a while, and Ebony magazine has done it since the 1970s, but for the two style guides I follow the closest—AP and Chicago—this is a change, and an off-cycle change, so it’s a big deal. 

Capitalizing ‘White’

What to do about “white” is more troublesome though. A lot of the style guides say you can still do it either way—capital or lowercase.

There’s a lot to say, and I was originally going to have a guest writer do a segment, and then I thought it’s so tricky I should do it myself, and finally, I decided I should elevate Black voices on this one, so I’m going to refer you to another podcast: this week’s Lexicon Valley hosted by John McWhorter. In it, he actually covers a lot of newsy word topics like “defund the police,” #blacklivesmatter, and calling white women “Karen.” The episode is titled “Defund Karen” and the part about capitalizing “Black” and “White” starts around the 11:00 minute mark, but the whole thing is interesting. He ends up concluding that we should lowercase “white,” which surprised me.

Slate also has an interesting article by Julia Craven about the AP style decision, the history of capitalizing the word “Black,” and how she feels about it.

You should now capitalize 'Black' when you are describing a person.

What I can tell you, is that you should now capitalize the word “Black” when you are describing a person. That has definitely become the agreed upon way to do it for professional writers.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

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