The bible of writing rules for news organizations across the Western world – the Associated Press Stylebook – has made its ruling on uneven treatment of skin colors, and it turns out it might be in favor of the practice after all.
One month after changing its style guide to require capitalization of the word “black” when referring to black people, the Associated Press wire service said it won’t do the same for the word “white.”
“White people in general have much less shared history and culture, and don’t have the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color,” the AP said on Monday, in an article about its decision. The company said anti-racism protests following the killing of George Floyd on May 31 had prompted it and many other news organizations to re-examine their practices.
AP rules are highly influential in setting standards for word choices, punctuation, and other style points, because most English-language news outlets use the guide as their own or as a default position when their own policies don’t cover a topic. The book is also a required reference for many journalism students.
The wire service acknowledged that its decision over “white” was “more ticklish” than its June 19 ruling on “Black.”
“We agree that white people’s skin color plays into systemic inequalities and injustices, and we want our journalism to robustly explore these problems,” John Daniszewski, AP’s vice president and editor-at-large for standards, said in a memo to staff on Monday.
Capitalizing the term ‘white,’ as is done by white supremacists, risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs.
AP decision-makers apparently didn’t consider the possibility of people of other skin colors giving themselves special deference out of racist beliefs. The decision brought a mixed reaction, with some Twitter users calling it racist and others cheering the move.
“Wow, that’s not racist at all, except for the racist part,” said one, while another said, “The alt-left mob is inside your house.” A supporter tweeted, “It makes perfect sense. I’m honestly sorry that you either don’t understand it or don’t want to understand it, but it absolutely makes sense.”
Many news organizations had already made rulings of their own on the issue, with the New York Times, NBC News, and others saying they would capitalize “Black” but not “white” – and Fox News and CNN saying they would capitalize “White” and “Black” along with other ethnic group names. CBS News said it would capitalize “White,” except when referring to white supremacists, white nationalists or white privilege.
When the AP revised its style guidelines in June, it ruled that both “Black,” and “Indigenous” would be capitalized, along with other ethnic identifiers, such as Latino. The company said at the time that it was still deliberating on treatment of the word “white.”