white / WhiteLast updated
In 2020, when many news outlets moved to capitalize the B in Black as a racial identifier, some also made the change to capitalize White. The National Association of Black Journalists now recommends capitalizing whenever color is used to signify race, including White and Brown.
As the Washington Post wrote: “Stories involving race show that White also represents a distinct cultural identity in the United States. In American history, many White Europeans who entered the country during times of mass migration were the targets of racial and ethnic discrimination. These diverse ethnicities were eventually assimilated into the collective group that has had its own cultural and historical impact on the nation. As such, White should be represented with a capital W.”
The MacArthur Foundation in 2020 also moved to capitalize White (as well as Black, Brown, and Indigenous): “Choosing to not capitalize White while capitalizing other racial and ethnic identifiers would implicitly affirm Whiteness as the standard and norm. Keeping White lowercase ignores the way Whiteness functions in institutions and communities.”
Opponents of capitalizing “white” point to the history of white supremacists groups capitalizing the term; the Associated Press, explaining its decision to lowercase, said capitalizing “risks subtly conveying legitimacy to such beliefs.”
The term Caucasian is sometimes used synonymously with white, though it is generally considered outdated and has its roots in an 18th-century pseudoscientific theory based on the idea that the region of the Caucasus was home to the “most beautiful” of people, i.e., light-skinned people.
Understanding the historical context and current debate around capitalizing this term is important when determining how to style it in your coverage.
- Column: Should ‘white’ be capitalized? It feels wrong, but it’s the way to go. (Chicago Tribune)
- Explaining AP style on Black and white (Associated Press)
Some stylebooks and organizations, including the National Association of Black Journalists, have moved to capitalize White to signify its reality as an actual racial category as opposed to a “neutral” space or the norm. However, opponents point to the history of white supremacist groups capitalizing the term. Understanding the historical context and current debate around capitalizing this term is important when determining how to style it in your coverage.