AP Spells Black With Small “b”

The Associated Press is one of the largest news gathering and news disseminating agencies in the world.  It serves approximately 120 countries and over 1,700 newspapers publish AP news.  This well-respected cooperative provides members with a stream of news stories and updates throughout the day.  Each year it publishes the “AP Style Book,” a grammar and punctuation guide that is widely used within the news industry.  Despite the fact it suggests reporters capitalize the first letter of proper nouns, AP spells the word “Black” with a lower case “b,” when it refers to people.  Like in “blacks and Hispanics.” AP also spells “white” with a small “w,” but the word “Black” is used a lot more.  Besides, if AP capitalized the “w” in “white” that would be glaringly discriminatory.

Blacks have been subjected to sundry forms of discrimination.  Even the smallest of polite considerations took a hit.  Whites denied Blacks the courtesy of addressing them as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and instead referred to Blacks as “uncle” and “aunt” like in Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima.  In the early 1960s when the draft-board learned that Preston King was a Black man, their letters stopped referring to him as “Mr.”  After many unsuccessful attempts to get the Board to properly address him, King left the country in protest and was in exile for 39 years.

During the era when Blacks were referred to as “Negroes,” white publishers insisted on spelling the word with a lower case “n.”  Many Negro leaders spoke out against this and in the 1930s the NAACP mounted a campaign to try and get the white media to spell “Negro” with a capital “N.”

In 1898 W.E.B. DuBois publicly announced, “I believe that eight million Americans are entitled to a capital letter.”   Similar to many Negroes, he felt it was an insult to his race to spell it with a small “n,” but that didn’t deter white publishers and editors from continuing this practice for decades.

Ida B Wells Barnett published “The Lynch Law in America” in 1900.  When she submitted the manuscript to her white publisher, Ida capitalized the “N” in “Negro” although the publisher later changed it.  It was unheard of at that time for whites to confer a capital letter on the Negro race.   Wells and her husband, owners of a newspaper, actively attempted to get the white press to stop diminishing the Negro race with a small letter.  Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey also spoke out about this as well.

Many publications, even some that are Black, follow the AP Style Book recommendations.  Some journalists are unfamiliar with the history of the capital letter in relationship to Blacks, so there might not be any ill intent, but there are those who are aware and still choose to withhold it.

Given this history, here’s my message to the AP:  “Let go of the old ways.  Blacks make up 13 percent of the population.  We are a group.  You spell every group, except Blacks, with a capital letter.  We’re a proper noun and long overdue an upper case “B.”


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by ernest gibson on January 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I’m a new subcriber to your newsletter. Just wanted to say that I love your work, hope you will be able to continue, and that I’m sharing it with others. Cordially, Ernest Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2013 20:02:11 +0000 To: gibsonernest@hotmail.com


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