Here’s why AP should reconsider its stance.
It’s true that white isn’t a culture. It’s a societal construct meant to separate people based on skin color.
Italians, Germans, and Irish all have different cultures and, until recently, didn’t have the privilege of being considered white. In the 19th century, German and Irish immigrants — not viewed as white at the time — were caught in a wave of anti-Catholic sentiment (America was primarily a Protestant country).
Italian migrants were among the most persecuted people in the country, discriminated against because of their olive skin and dark hair. They were so despised that in 1891, a mob lynched 11 Italians after the shooting death of New Orlean’s police chief — even though many of the men were found not guilty in court.
But AP’s sound culture argument ignores that Black people don’t share a single culture. It’s true, as AP notes, that all Black people, regardless of where they’re from, have a shared history of racism. But the cultures can be very different.
Just look at my family. On both sides, my ancestors were enslaved people. But my dark-skinned paternal grandmother was born in the Dominican Republic, and my maternal grandmother was reared in South Carolina. Their religions, customs, and foods were all different, so much so that gatherings at my mother’s house contained diverse meals only because no one would eat what the other side cooked.
The other argument — capitalizing white plays into the hands of white supremacists — seems flimsier. One capitalized letter doesn’t (shouldn’t) mean anything more than the letter happens to be capitalized.
Barack Obama served eight years as president, and his family of four lived in the White House. The Chicago White Sox, White Plains, NY, and Barry White (funny, huh?) don’t in any way denote a white supremacist tinge.
AP, in the lowercase arguments, writes it only means white in terms of race. Following that logic, we shouldn’t capitalize Nazi, Fascist (as in National Fascist Party in post-WWI Italy), or any term that might denote supremacist views.
In the emails I receive, readers note that failing to capitalize white makes it appear that the media wants to give Black people superiority over white people.
That’s nonsense, but it points to the crux of the objection that some readers make clear.
You’re trying to put me below a Black person.
Research from Northwestern University (and others) backs that up. Some white people, the research found, think the current demographic changes put them at risk of losing their traditional power and place in society. It’s an issue we don’t talk about enough.
They see failing to capitalize white as another effort to demean them. That’s what the emails tell me.
I don’t think it matters that white’s not a culture. For centuries, we have lived by the bad definitions of men who created a culture of whiteness (different from a white culture) that set boundaries for what people could achieve based on skin color. Society went along and lives with the myriad of problems it has created, including continued segregation, racial hatred, wealth inequities, and more.
Just because society foolishly embraces one social construct doesn’t mean it should hold fast to another arbitrary rule.
There’s no good reason not to capitalize white in journalism, and we’re starting to see some publications break away from that.
I don’t care if some people lighter than me — or, as James Baldwin said, the people who think of themselves as white — find a lowercase “w” offensive simply because they’re insecure about their place in society.
I do care about trying to ensure that we’re all eventually on equal footing.
That’s not a one-way street.
That’s why we should capitalize White.
Ray Marcano’s column appears on these pages each Sunday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.