Wokeness trumps grammar? Columbia Journalism Review grilled for capitalizing ‘Black’ but not ‘white’ in ethnicity references
The prestigious journal proudly acknowledged its radical style guide choice in a piece published on Tuesday. “We capitalize Black, and not white, when referring to racial groups,” the article declared, explaining that “Black is an ethnic designation; white merely describes the skin color of people who can trace their ethnic origins back to a handful of European countries.”
CJR went on to claim that the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police made its choice even more appropriate, and speculated that the Associated Press and other outlets would soon follow its example.
But as the Review took a woke victory lap, it faced a wave of negative reaction on social media. One observer stated that the capitalization policy was blatant racism and designates non-whites as “the other.”
Euro-racism. "White" isn't capitalized because it is "universal" culture. This is what Euro-centric essentialism is. But "Black" denotes "ethnics culture." Word "ethnic" traces to the "other" of the Romans. Everyone but White people & culture are "other."@ShellenbergerMDhttps://t.co/EWMMqLEE3J— Sankrant Sanu सानु संक्रान्त ਸੰਕ੍ਰਾਂਤ ਸਾਨੁ (@sankrant) June 16, 2020
Others noted that the policy lumps all dark-skinned people together and deprives them of their distinct national and ethnic identities – a narrow worldview often described as racist.
So Bangladeshis are ethnically Black, like Kenyans.— normal people have more freedom in China than U.S (@cycledcontent) June 16, 2020
Author Mike Shellenberger went one step further, noting that, not only is the policy bigoted, but it’s also an affront to English grammar.
Chicago Manual of Style says “Names of ethnic and national groups are capitalized” Thus, "African American," "Asian American," "Italian American" are all fineIt also says we should write "black" and "white" in lowercaseWhy should we change that now, exactly?— Mike Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) June 16, 2020
To complete the smorgasbord of criticism, one snarky commenter wondered what Martin Luther King’s famous words about equality would sound like if he had held the same views as the editors of CJR.
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the capitalization of its first character." https://t.co/zS4caA6Mwk— Mike Partyka (@MichaelJPartyka) June 16, 2020
As the Black Lives Matter movement spreads across the world, companies, institutions and even governments have scrambled to present themselves as militantly anti-racist. But some actions, purportedly taken to show solidarity, have been characterized as overkill – Oxford University, for example, recently announced it would show leniency when grading students who claim to be traumatized by Floyd’s death.
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