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Black / black

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Black is the racial term used to describe people with roots in the African diaspora; physical markers that may typically be used to distinguish those considered Black from other racial groups include skin tone and hair texture. As with all socially constructed racial categories, its borders have and continue to shift. The embrace of the term Black in the US in the 1960s, for example, was associated with the politics of the Black Power movement and a radical reclamation of a term once considered a slight.

The debate around whether to capitalize Black and similar racial identifiers has also been ongoing for decades. Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that capitalizing Black is about Black being a social category related to the history and shared identity of Black people. The B in Black can be read as emphasizing the reality of race as created and not discovered. 

But not everyone shares this view. In July 2021, Poynter summarized some of the arguments against capitalization, including that “Blanket standardization obliterates the nuanced nature of black identities and assigns them to an official catch-all category” and that lowercasing it may be more appropriate in academic use and more representative of a diverse range of ethnicities and backgrounds. 

Following widespread protests against police brutality and for Black equity in the summer of 2020, many mainstream publications and media outlets changed their house style to capitalize the B in Black. In a note from Dean Baquet and Phil Corbett dated June 30, 2020, the editors explained to the New York Times audiences that the paper would capitalize as a symbol of their respect for people of African descent. 

Though African American and Black are often used interchangeably, the former may be understood as a marker of an ethnic and cultural identity as opposed to a strictly racial one. Following an individual’s preferences when determining if, when, and how to use either identifier, including the capitalization of Black, ensures coverage reflects how a person self-identifies.

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