Why FLAIR capitalise Black, White and Brown

Because it’s so much more than just a ‘B’...

When Abi Adamson, Founder of The Diversity Partnership, posted an article on LinkedIn about using a capital ‘B’ when referring to Blackness, we knew this was an important message to highlight.

As an organisation founded on the mission to advance racial equity and create a world where all ethnicities can thrive, we know how powerful language is.

Whether the ‘B’ is capitalised or not shouldn’t be left as a typographical choice, it should be considered as correct as it would be to capitalise the ‘F’ in French.

Abi’s assertion that Black people have “certainly earned the right to have our identity capitalised” was profound. “We need to remember that Black with a capital B refers to people of the African and Caribbean diaspora, one whose existence has historically been plagued by oppression and worse, erasure. Lowercase B refers to the actual colour, like a crayon,” she goes on to say.

Lori L. Tharps, a Journalism teacher at Temple University, agrees with Abi’s sentiment.

“When a copyeditor deletes the capital ‘B,’ they are in effect deleting the history and contributions of my people."

As the term “Brown” surges in usage, gradually being claimed by certain ethnically-minoritised people (e.g. South Asians) to self-identify, we should consider applying similar anti-whitewash logic.

Anne Price, the President of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, added that “capitalising Black is about claiming power.” While Newspaper and news broadcasting company USA Today decided to capitalise Black to show “understanding and respect.”


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So, where does this leave the White folk?

After being counselled by a diversity and inclusion task force, The Seattle Times updated its style guide:

Black (adj.): Belonging to people who are part of the African diaspora. Capitalise Black because it is a reflection of shared cultures and experiences (foods, languages, music, religious traditions, etc.).

white (adj.): Belonging to people with light-coloured skin, especially those of European descent. Unlike Black, it is lowercase, as its use is a physical description of people whose backgrounds may spring from many different cultures.

Conversely, the American Psychological Association style guide declares, “Racial and ethnic groups are designated by proper nouns and are capitalised. Therefore, use ‘Black’ and ‘White’ instead of ‘black’ and ‘white.’”

The Center for the Study of Social Policy follows the American Psychological Association’s style rules because, in their view;

“To not name ‘White’ as a race is, in fact, an anti-Black act which frames Whiteness as both neutral and the standard … We believe that it is important to call attention to White as a race as a way to understand and give voice to how Whiteness functions in our social and political institutions and our communities. Moreover, the detachment of ‘White’ as a proper noun allows White people to sit out of conversations about race and removes accountability from White people’s and White institutions’ involvement in racism.”

FLAIR’s recommendation

There is certainly a fair amount to consider. We have discussed various political and academic perspectives around how we decide to stylise the words we use to describe racial groups. Strong opinions on both sides of the debate stem from individuals’ lived experiences and, to some extent, reflect how much they have or haven’t been harmed by White supremacy.

At FLAIR, this is where we land. We decided earlier this year that as an organisation, we would capitalise Black, White and Brown to demonstrate our striving toward racial equity. We want the intentional capitalisation of these three broad racial groups to remind you that “colour-blindness” is harmful.

Instead, we need to admit we see colour to acknowledge how structures of power have elevated Whiteness, pitted it against Blackness and established a hierarchy of skin tones.

We also need to understand how (and why) society has distributed power and privilege across this socially-constructed scale in a way that results in differential life outcomes for racialised groups.

Language adapts over time, reflecting changes in our social and political landscape, and we’re sure the conversation will evolve in years to come. Perhaps we will reach a consensus on what typography should be standard; until then, we will continue to differentiate between racial groupings with Uppercase letters in the hopes of provoking reflection and self-reflection amongst our readers and allies.

Will you join us in capitalising the Bs (and the W)?

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