Still Learning

Photo by Joyce McCown / Unsplash

To borrow a couple of lines from Amanda Gorman’s striking inaugural poem The Hill We Climb:

It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,

it’s the past we step into

and how we repair it

I’d only recently become aware of the conversation around capitalizing the “b” in the word “black” in recognition of an ethnic identity. The Associated Press Stylebook (which many newsrooms adhere to), incorporated this practice on July 20, 2020, declaring:

“AP’s style is now to capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, conveying an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa. The lowercase black is a color, not a person. AP style will continue to lowercase the term white in racial, ethnic and cultural senses.

We also now capitalize Indigenous in reference to original inhabitants of a place.

The decisions align with long-standing capitalization of distinct racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American and Native American. Our discussions on style and language consider many points, including the need to be inclusive and respectful in our storytelling and the evolution of language.”

Of note to writers, the Chicago Manual of Style adopted this practice on June 22, 2020, as a guideline in the interim before publication of the next edition, however, they differ on the capitalization of white “as a matter of editorial consistency.” CMOS expresses “a debt of gratitude to those who have led us here.”

In any effort such as this one hopes to respect the consensus of the ethnic groups involved.

Let me tell you why I’ve been thinking about this. Luella, one of the main characters in my coming-of-age novel, Taking Root, is a Black woman. After reading an article last summer in Poets & Writers magazine about a woman in Philadelphia who opened a bookshop, I was moved to send her a gift copy. The shop is named after Harriet Tubman and its mission is to celebrate women authors, women artists and women activists.

In my cover letter, I gave a brief description of my book and sent it off along with my best wishes for the bookshop owner’s success. Not long ago, I found myself suddenly worried that I may not have capitalized the “b” in the word “black” within the text of my letter. I checked and was saddened to find that I had not. Another lesson learned.

“The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams.”   ~Maya Angelou

One reply on “Still Learning”

Dear Brenda,

Thank you for this important information. I appreciate your honesty and truth-telling. You make this a better world with your awareness and caring.

It’s a very confusing time, trying to be correct.

A little while ago, I became annoyed with the option of “white” in those forms we have to fill out. “White” is a color, I thought, not a race. But, looking it up, white is a racial classification. Weird! But. It seems if Black is to be capitalized when referring to race, then white should be, too. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time.

I really like your title for this piece “Still Learning” says so much.



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