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A Few Words About Racism and Style and Capitalizing the Words ‘Black’ and ‘White’

Mark Cuban graces the August 2020 cover of D Magazine.
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When we published the cover of the August issue of D Magazine (full image here), it spurred some conversation on social media. One word, in particular, caught the eye of some folks at the Dallas Morning News. They wanted to know why we capitalized the word “White,” especially given that in late June the paper announced it was changing its house style to include uppercase “Black” when referring to race. On Twitter, some of the comments about capitalization were sincere inquiries about our house style; others were awkward attempts to mount a high horse. For those who care, I’ll break this down:

First, let’s address style in general. Style is about choices where choices exist. Your house style can’t stipulate that a ring of sweetened, fried dough should be spelled “Bob Jeffress.” That would confuse readers. How would they parse a headline like “Get Ready for a New Bob Jeffress Shop in Bishop Arts”? You get to pick between “doughnut” and “donut.” There is no right or wrong choice; the aim is to be consistent. (Our style is the more dignified “doughnut.”)

So when people point to the AP Stylebook and say, “That’s the right way to do it,” they misunderstand how this process works. The Associated Press is a fine organization (its aversion to the serial comma notwithstanding). When the AP made its announcement five days before the DMN’s announcement that it would capitalize “Black,” it was a thoughtful decision that works for them. As the AP’s vice president of standards said, “The lowercase black is a color, not a person.”

Similarly, on July 20, when the AP announced it had decided not to capitalize “white,” that was a decision that works for them. In particular, the AP writes for an international audience, some of which has not participated in centuries of racial terrorism.

At D Magazine, we write for North Texans. We’ve made a house style decision about “Black” and “White” that works for us. It was informed by this article, published in March, by the Center for the Study of Social Policy. Here’s the passage that helped us decide we should capitalize “White,” despite what White supremacists do with the word:

To not name “White” as a race is, in fact, an anti-Black act which frames Whiteness as both neutral and the standard. In sociologist Robin D’Angelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, she writes, “White people get to be ‘just people,’” without having their race named, whereas people of color are often described with their race.

We believe that it is important to call attention to White as a race as a way to understand and give voice to how Whiteness functions in our social and political institutions and our communities. Moreover, the detachment of “White” as a proper noun allows White people to sit out of conversations about race and removes accountability from White people’s and White institutions’ involvement in racism. We are also reckoning with the threatening implications of capitalizing “W” in “White,” often used by White supremacists, to establish White racial dominance. The violence of capitalizing White in this context makes us grapple with the history of how Whiteness has functioned and thrived in the United States; acknowledging that, yes, White people have had power and still hold power in this country. While we condemn those who capitalize “W” for the sake of evoking violence, we intentionally capitalize “White” in part to invite people, and ourselves, to think deeply about the ways Whiteness survives—and is supported both explicitly and implicitly.

That’s where we stand. To our readers: please give the matter some thought. We hope you’ll stand with us.

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