The Chicago Sun-Times bills itself as “the hardest-working paper in America”. Well, they’ve certainly been hard at work on their style guide. In a special message to readers, the paper announces a significant change in policy:
We also instructed our journalists that in the event the terms Black and Brown are used together to collectively describe a group, we will capitalize the ‘B’ in both words, such as ‘Black and Brown communities.’
However, they also told their journalists “to continue to lowercase the ‘w’ in white.”
Why the inconsistency? The reasons given don’t stand-up. For a start, it is claimed that the paper’s decision “puts Black on the same level as Hispanic, Latino, Asian, African American and other descriptors.” Except that it doesn’t, because all of those descriptors are capitalised because they are derived from capitalised place names i.e. Spain, Latin America, Asia, Africa and America. In this context, the descriptor ‘black’ is not derived from a place name — and neither is ‘white’.
Why then, would the two adjectives be treated differently? Various reasons are given, none of them especially convincing. For instance, there’s the argument the paper’s new policy is an “acknowledgment of the long-standing inequities that have existed in our country”. In which case, shouldn’t we also have ‘Women’ and ‘men’, ‘Gay’ and ‘straight’, ‘Poor and rich’, etc? In fact, why not put these pairings in differently sized fonts?
The paper also wishes to recognise “the unique role that Black art and culture have played in our society” while asserting that “cultural trends among white people, e.g. Italian Americans, Irish Americans, etc., are much more disparate, which was a key factor in our decision not to capitalize white.” But black American culture speaks for itself — it doesn’t need a capital letter awarded to it like some special prize. As for the notion that white America is “disparate” in a way that black America is not, that’s a sweeping generalisation on both sides. What about black immigrants to America from various Caribbean and African countries? Just like immigrants from any other diverse range of backgrounds, they too are “disparate”. Does that mean they should be referred to as black but not Black?
This whole idea, which is bound to spread to Britain before long, is pointlessly divisive. After all, if we don’t need capital letters for ‘human being’ then that should be fine for all of us.