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View Full Version : What is the rule regarding capitalization of ethnicity/race?


bbs2k
10-12-2007, 02:20 AM
I've had a few brief discussions on this before, but it was never really the topic. I will use Afican Americans as an example in this post mostly because I see them as the example more often than any other minority on this board.

In a lot of threads regarding discussion where the topic relates to race there are some members who will capitalize the word Black and there are some members who don't. I've usually associated myself with the latter, but I am asking now because I am open to being corrected.

I started this thread after reading an article in the Boston Globe (newspaper) and I couldn't understand a quote. Here it is, with the exact capitilazation: "I could count all the Asian and black kids in my class on two hands," he said craning his neck to peer inside a classroom. "Now 52% of our kids are Asian, black, or Hispanic." The quote was from the principal of a school in Malden, Ma regarding the urbanization of that town. It was really a nice story, but the capitalization confuses me.

I capitalize African American, because the title involves two locations. I capitlize America, and Africa, not to mention Boston. But I haven't been capitalizing black, because I didn't know that I was supposed to. Am I?

"Asian" is capitalized in that article, because it's a description of someone who has had familial roots in Asia. "Black" was not capitalized, but then "Hispanic" was. Why was "Hispanic" capitalized then? Is there a region of Hispania?

Please forgive my ignorance on this subject, but I would really like to know the right way to define a persons ethnicity/race when that happens to be the subject of discussion.

Thank you,
bbs2k (white, male, 26)

TokyoBayer
10-12-2007, 03:36 AM
I'm not sure why this is in GD instead of GC, as it seems that there should be factual answers for this.

For example (http://main.uab.edu/show.asp?durki=7713),

raceŚCapitalize names of races: African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic; lowercase "black" and "white" when referring to races. Beware of words, images, and situations that suggest that all or most members of a racial or ethnic group are the same.

bbs2k
10-12-2007, 04:24 AM
I'm not sure why this is in GD instead of GC...I wrestled with this. While I'm sure there is a grammatically factual answer I wanted to try and open up more of a discussion on why some people do choose to capitalize "Black" and others don't. In fact, I was already rather certain that I didn't have to capitalize it, but once again, would like to hear what people wanted to say. In this thread (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=432909) (Don Imus, you ruined my reputation, and now I want my money. Bitch!) I asked the same question, and it was answered by one member, but since that question really wasn't the point of the thread it was soon forgotten.

Here I asked (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showpost.php?p=8888506&postcount=64). And Lil' Pluck was nice enough to answer:Good lookin' out, bbs2k--and your're right about the lack of an anti-Jackson streak on my part (well, at least WRT this particular thread, anyway ;))--but even though I don't write as prolifically or as eloquently on this board about race matters as HH does, I'm guessing that he's familiar enough with some of my postings on the subject so as to not assign that particular characterization to my motives in starting this thread. I believe that he was referring to the aforementioned Jason Whitlock. He, of course, is welcome to clarify this for us.
Let's just say that the question still makes me curious and I was hoping to see maybe some other's expand on it.

Is anyone partial to seeing someone other than themselves capitalizing it differently? For example, if you do capitalize it, would you prefer others to as well, or are you just "meh" about it?

Considering that I raised the subject initially because I noticed the tendency of African American members to capitalize it rather than our members who are white, would it be in any way offensive if I adopted the habit (as a white guy); or do I predict that you'd probably be just "meh" about it again?

Li'l Pluck
10-12-2007, 04:25 AM
Well, since I suspect I'm one of the members you're referring to...

When I use "African-American" ("A-A"), I capitalize it, because you're supposed to. The thing is, I use A-A mostly for formal speech and writing. For more informal purposes, I simply prefer using "black" (unless, at the same time, I'm hypenating other ethnicities with "-American," in which case I'll be consistent and use "African-American"), but because I don't like "black" being lowercase while everybody else (Asian, Hispanic, what-have-you, with the exception of white) gets the initial cap, I choose to capitalize "Black". Yes, even though I've known since childhood that, in this usage, it is not technically proper to do so. Hey, it's a political thing, y'know?

And, nice guy that I am :D , for parity's sake, I also capitalize "White" when I use it as an ethnic descriptor.

ETA: Oh, I see that you've mentioned me in your second post. Running out of time to edit...

Li'l Pluck
10-12-2007, 04:40 AM
Is anyone partial to seeing someone other than themselves capitalizing it differently? For example, if you do capitalize it, would you prefer others to as well, or are you just "meh" about it?

Considering that I raised the subject initially because I noticed the tendency of African American members to capitalize it rather than our members who are white, would it be in any way offensive if I adopted the habit (as a white guy); or do I predict that you'd probably be just "meh" about it again?

Sorry about that--I knew that I was running out of edit time on my last post.

Well, no. If someone capitalized Asian, Hispanic, etc., but didn't capitalize black (or white, for that matter), I wouldn't take offense. I will say, however, that if someone used ethnic designations in a formal context (scholarly, professional), and they chose "black" over "African-American," I'd definitely have, at the very least, an internal "WTF?" reaction.

Oh, wait--you mean if you, as a White guy, adopted the habit of capitalizing "Black"? Can't imagine why anyone'd get offended at something like that. Some people, though, might appreciate it on a "hey, man, cool" or "that's kinda interesting" level. Or they might not really notice at all. It could go either way, I reckon. At any rate, I just can't see how, apart from the rules regarding capitalization, it'd get you in trouble.

Just don't go walking around with a pick in your hair or back pocket and indiscriminately pumping a "power to the people" fist into the air. ;)

Omega Glory
10-13-2007, 08:41 PM
Considering that I raised the subject initially because I noticed the tendency of African American members to capitalize it rather than our members who are white, would it be in any way offensive if I adopted the habit (as a white guy); or do I predict that you'd probably be just "meh" about it again?
I'm with Li'l Pluck. I can't see anyone getting upset if you decided to capitalize it. I wouldn't mind either way, but someone who decided to capitalize black without capitalizing white (or vice versa) would get a raised eyebrow from me, at the very least. Just be consistent.

monstro
10-13-2007, 09:48 PM
If you ever open up an Ebony magazine, you'll see both "black" and "white" capitalized.

Ebony's the only publication that I know, right off the top of my head, that does this.

tomndebb
10-14-2007, 12:30 AM
As noted, Asian, African, American, etc are all proper nouns in their own right. They get capitalized because English has capitalized proper nouns for a couple of hundred years or more.

Black and white are the names of colors and do not get capitalized unless they begin a sentence.

In the 1960s, when the current terms for people of largely European or largely Afrian ancestry were white and Negro, Negro got a capital N in the same way that Caucasian got a capial C. However, very few newspapers referred to European-descended persons as Caucasians--white was far and away the most common word used to identify such persons. When the movement arose to replace Negro with black, the principle arguments were to use a word that most closely corresponded to the way in which European-descended people were identified--the color word black with an initial letter in lower case corresponding to the "w" of white.

Now, 38 or 39 years later, different attitudes have arisen toward different usages.
As a geezer, I continue to use the original practice, however I would never claim that there is a "right" way to do it. Your best bet is to follow the stylebook of some major player in the publishing game (e.g., the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook) and simply do whatever they do, directing any persons complaining of your decision to the stylebook of your choice.

bbs2k
10-14-2007, 07:23 AM
Just don't go walking around with a pick in your hair or back pocket and indiscriminately pumping a "power to the people" fist into the air. Don't worry, I was just raising hypothetical scenarios for the sake of hearing some other opinions. This line cracked me up though.

And thanks to the previous three members for posting. I had thought my question was doomed to sink away.