AP issues new rules on race; “Black” and “Indigenous” get capitalization

Over the past several years, the Associated Press has made a number of changes that left style geeks in a panic. The decision to go with “%” instead of “percent” made no sense as a key change. The rule that told us how to quote emojishad us wondering if we’d officially slipped into hell. The biggest disaster, however, was its flip-flop-a-thon on compound modifiers and hyphenation, which had a few of us asking if “dumb-ass idea” was still hyphenated.

This time around, AP looked at a bigger issue and made a good call. The folks there announced Friday that it would be shifting to the use of a capital “B” in the word “Black,” in reference to issues of race. John Daniszewski, the vice president of standards, noted in his blog post that this decision came after two years of research and discussions on the topic:

These changes align with long-standing capitalization of other 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. We believe this change serves those ends.

Several other organizations had already made in-house style changes, capitalizing the word and offering similar rationale for it. Although the AP has been criticized for acting slowly on this, the announcement came about a week after the National Association of Black Journalists made its style position clear in a press release:

For the last year, the National Association of Black Journalists(NABJ) has been integrating the capitalization of the word “Black” into its communications.

However, it is equally important that the word is capitalized in news coverage and reporting about Black people, Black communities, Black culture, Black institutions, etc.

NABJ’s Board of Directors has adopted this approach, as well as many of our members, and recommends that it be used across the industry.

As is usually the case, AP made dozens of other changes as well for the upcoming style edition, so it’s probably worth it to update your subscription and mutter to yourself, “Don’t these people have anything better to do?” However, in the case of “Black,” AP did the right thing for a good reason and reflected the needs and interests of journalists and readers.

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