A "Black" and "white" Issue

A response to this article from the New York Times. Dear Editor,

Your recent style update is a perfect example of institutional racism, because in capitalizing “Black” but not “white,” you pursue a policy of “separate but unequal.” 

You cannot, without hypocricy, encode racial disparity into the very typography of your reporting on racial disparity. You cannot, without hypocrisy, advocate for racial reconciliation by simultaneously “othering” blacks and denigrating whites. 

You justify your new, racist policy with yet more racism, claiming that “Blacks” share a coherent culture, while “whites” do not — yet you and other news sources frequently reference “white privilege,” “white supremacy,” and (yet somehow) “white fragility” throughout your reporting and opinions. Clearly, you treat “whiteness” as a shared culture only when describing its negative qualities.

Also, you are concerned that capitalizing “White” might align you with white supremacists, yet show no parallel concern that capitalizing “Black” might align you with equally abhorrent black supremacists, such as the Nation of Islam.

Finally, you claim that the public wants this, and that you consulted with a range of stakeholders before taking this measure — yet you self-evidently did not consult with enough people outside of your normative "bubble." Had you done so, you would have found, no doubt, that at least half the nation vehemently detests your new editorial policy. 

If you need to see a survey in order to acknowledge this, that only demonstrates the breathtaking extent to which you are ideologically siloed. 

To understand why your new policy does not sit well, simply imagine the same scenario, only with the races reversed. It is alarming to note that your rationale would still fit the bill: “We capitalize ‘White’ because Whites have traceable cultural roots in this nation, while blacks (for historical reasons) do not.”

Am I comparing apples to oranges? Only according to those who already take on the dominant presumptions of your newsroom, such as the notion that white people cannot be victims of racism (especially at the hands of other whites), and should therefore happily concede to disparate treatment in newsprint. 

But your values and assumptions are controversial, and as such they should be open for debate, not unilaterally codified — by fiat — into the very terms, conditions, and forum for the debate, that “forum” being the national press. 

Capitalizing “Black” in the national press does not honor black people; it patronizes them — and it also denigrates white people. Capitalizing both “White” and “Black” denigrates no person, but it does denigrate the English language. This is because “white” and “black” are both common adjectives. You may as well capitalize “Tall” and “Short” as to capitalize “Black” and “White.”

“American,” on the other hand, is a proper adjective – as well as a proper noun — that is rightly capitalized. Here is a helpful example of how that might look in print if your newspaper were not obsessed with racial division: 

“There are white Americans, there are black Americans, and there are other kinds of Americans as well — but we are all American.”

At least some black Americans rightly reject the alleged honor of a capital “B,” because – in clear contradistinction to your view of them — they want to be understood as individuals, not circumscribed, essentialized, and “othered” beneath the crushing weight of yet another overly broad, hopelessly artificial metonym enforced by white elites.

In this, your black detractors are in perfect alignment with one great American’s noble dream for our nation. Your newsroom, on the other hand, is in perfect alignment with his nightmares.

Nicholas Gentry

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