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Why the AP and others are now capitalizing the 'B' in Black

Why the AP and others are now capitalizing the 'B' in Black
© MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

The Associated Press on Friday announced it was updating its style guide to capitalize the B in the word Black when it is referred to "in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense," joining a number of newsrooms nationwide adopting such a change. 

"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," it announced on Twitter. 

The AP Stylebook said it was changing guidelines to also "capitalize Indigenous in reference to original inhabitants of a place," calling the changes part of a "need to be inclusive and respectful in our storytelling and the evolution of language."

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The change has been adopted by The Hill's newsroom, as well as The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and NBC News, BuzzFeed, Forbes, McClatchy newspaper and others amid calls to be more inclusive as racial equality, police brutality and systemic racism have been at the center of national debate in recent weeks.

Former president of the National Association for Black Journalists (NABJ) and NBC executive Sarah Glover said last week that the change is significant because it's "a good first step to affirm the significance of being Black in America."

"Black is an encompassing term that is readily used to refer to African Americans, people of Caribbean descent and people of African origin worldwide. Capitalizing the “B” in Black should become standard use to describe people, culture, art and communities. We already capitalize Asian, Hispanic, African American and Native American," Glover, who served as the NABJ's 21st president from 2015-2019, said in a letter calling on newsrooms to make the change.

"Journalism and media companies must have a reckoning with themselves, reflect upon their own practices and also shatter systemic racism that exists within the mighty bowels of the free press," she continued.

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"How may the journalism community hold the powerful to account without an internal review of its very own practices? The press must work to be sure all its habits are fair and equitable," she said. 

The renewed attention on the fight for newsrooms to appropriately reference Black communities comes nearly a century after the co-founder of the NAACP, W.E.B. Du Bois began a letter-writing campaign to major newsrooms asking them to capitalize their use of "Negro" saying "the use of a small letter for the name of twelve million Americans and two hundred million beings is a personal insult."

Some newsrooms, including The Seattle Times and the Boston Globe made the change last year, but most newsrooms have been discussing capitalizing the word after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. 

Video of Floyd's death went viral and sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and a renewed focus on the need to confront systemic racism in the U.S. and abroad. The protests have sparked discussions about federal policies on policing, how the media covers race and how companies approach diversity.