Summary of Time to Capitalize Black and White

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Time to Capitalize Black and White summary

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Should publications capitalize “black” and “white” or, perhaps, “brown” to discuss race? Almost everyone – readers, writers, editors – has a stake in that debate. In this carefully nuanced and curated Atlantic article, Kwame Anthony Appiah outlines the controversy over using upper or lowercase letters to describe race. Professionals disagree on this. Here, Appiah advocates capitalizing both “black” and “white,” but, as Jon Allsop wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review in August 2020, “For many people, Black reflects a shared sense of identity and community. White carries a different set of meanings; capitalizing the word in this context risks following the lead of white supremacists.” Join the debate to learn a few rules you never heard about in grammar school.

About the Author

Born in London, Kwame Anthony Appiah is a British-Ghanaian philosopher, writer and cultural theorist. He holds academic positions at the Law School and the Department of Philosophy at New York University.


History, politics and grammar meet at the intersection of race and equality.

Grammar and capitalization occupy a high-profile seat in current debates about race and history in the United States. One debate centers on a pivotal question: Should writers and editors capitalize the letter “b” in the word “Black” when the term is used to describe or name African-American people? That single grammatical question has launched a series of inquiries about race, equality and white supremacy in the United States. 

Here are a few questions this debate generates over spelling Black with an uppercase “B”:

  • What is the significance of the word Black as applied to African-Americans? What is the power of that designation?
  • What about using an uppercase “W” when using the term “white” to describe Caucasian people?
  • How are well-known style guides approaching the capitalization debate?

The term “Black” ...

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