Etymology Usage

Black with a capital B

[Note: This post was updated on Sept. 9, 2021.]

Q: I think it’s an insult to lowercase the “b” in “black” when referring to race. Why not, for instance, use the capital letter in writing about Black members of Congress? I always do, and I’m Caucasian.

A: After giving this a lot of thought, we agree with you that the uppercase “B” is appropriate when using Black as a racial designation.

We’ve written before on our blog about capitalization rules, and how publishers’ “house styles” come and go. In the last year or so, in a dramatic instance of language change, a concensus about the capitalization of “Black” has emerged.

This may have been a response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the spotlight it has trained on the killings by police of unarmed African Americans—like George Floyd in 202o.

Today, nine out of the ten standard American and British dictionaries that we usually consult recognize both “Black”and “black” as standard English for the racial term.

But the tenth dictionary, Collins, goes further. For the racial designation, it accepts only the capitalized “Black.”

Many news organizations, too, have changed their capitalization rules, mostly since mid-2020. Those that now use the capitalized “Black” include The New York Times, Associated Press, USA Today, NBC News, The Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, the McClatchy newspaper chain, The Seattle Times, The Boston Globe, Fox News Media, and The Washington Post.

In its announcement, the Post said it had decided to “uppercase the B in Black to identify the many groups that make up the African diaspora in America and elsewhere” (July 29, 2020).

We’ve decided that our posts on The Grammarphobia Blog will also use the uppercase “Black.”

You might also be interested in a blog entry we wrote about the evolution of the word “black,” and another posting about “black American” versus “African American.”

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