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As of June 16, 2020, Wisconsin Watch will capitalize the B when referring to Black people, communities, culture and history.
The change follows extensive discussion among Wisconsin Watch staffers, and it comes as a growing number of newsrooms and journalism organizations are re-evaluating their previous usage of the lowercase “b.”
Sarah Glover, former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, called for the change last week in an open letter to the Associated Press and news organizations nationwide.
“This step is a good first step to affirm the significance of being Black in America. This matters. It’s to bring humanity to a group of people who have experienced forms of oppression and discrimination since they first came to the United States 401 years ago as enslaved people,” she wrote.
Black is an ethnoracial identifier alongside African American, Native American, Hispanic, Latino and Asian. Black should be capitalized equally, and from now on, Wisconsin Watch will do so.
It’s important to note that Black and African American are not necessarily synonymous. People with a wider range of heritages — including members of the African diaspora, people of Caribbean descent, or those who have immigrated — may more readily identify as Black. As before, Wisconsin Watch reporters will ask people how they prefer to identify themselves whenever possible.
This change departs from guidance offered by the Associated Press Stylebook, which Wisconsin Watch follows on most issues of capitalization, abbreviation and language use. But the change was necessary to meet our commitment to fair, accurate and truthful journalism that respects and serves all people of Wisconsin.
As Michael McCarter, USA TODAY’s managing editor of standards, ethics and inclusion wrote: “Stylebooks in journalism must be revisited and updated more frequently. They cannot be used as a crutch or an excuse to not do the right thing for the communities we serve.”
Wisconsin Watch credits the perspectives of many journalists and news organizations who have advocated for this change and made it before us, especially the Black press. We also thank Madison365 for its consultation, Sarah Glover for her call to action, Michael McCarter for his explanation of the USA TODAY Network’s changes and the USA TODAY diversity committee’s leadership and the work of The Seattle Times’ Diversity & Inclusion Task Force in providing detailed definitions and guidance for usage.
We adopt The Seattle Times’ definitions and guidance, as seen below, but allow ourselves flexibility to use the terms as nouns in carefully considered cases when the meaning is clear and the change improves sentence construction:
“Black (adj.): Belonging to people who are part of the African diaspora. Capitalize Black because it is 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 which ethnic identifier they use. Black is not necessarily synonymous with African American; some argue the term Black is more inclusive of the collective experiences of the U.S. population, which encompasses recent immigrants.”
“white (adj.): Belonging to 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 may 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.”
The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (wisconsinwatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.