Forum Talk:Style

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Black vs. black etc

Hayford Peirce recently wrote the following to me: "As I'm sure you're aware, both the AP and the New York Times have decided to capitalize Black people in their stories, while retaining the small "w" for "white". Many thousands of (angry) words have been devoted to this over the last month or so in many forums (fora). I was somewhat surprised to see that in the 1982 British thriller The Mischief Makers that I just finished writing about, "black" was used throughout, as both an adjective and a noun. No Negroes or negroes or N-words. And Colonel Russell, the Establishment head of the Security Executive, hopes to have one of his black "operators", William Wilberforce Smith, become head of the Executive one day. Tell me if you want Black or black in articles, it makes no difference to me."

And I answered: "I have no idea. Of all the options: Negro, African American, black, Black, People of Color -- none really seem adequate for all situations. Except where absolutely necessary to discuss a person's personal background, culture, etc, I'll admit I avoid addressing the matter at all. If I need to identify someone physically, and then, then I either describe their skin tone specifically or their background as I know it. For example, I have a friend from India who has the darkest skin I've even seen; I would style him as black-skinned, and his ethnicity is from a Christian group in India whose further background I don't exactly understand. And, he is now an American citizen.

In other words, I don't believe we need a specific policy, except to avoid offensive words."

To which Hayford replied: "Good enough. I'll just play it by ear as I go along. In the case of The Mischief Makers, I'll just use black, without Caps, since that's what the book is using, and that was probably advanced for the time."

This was done via email, but I am copying the exchange here in case it is useful for others, or if anyone else wants to weigh in.Pat Palmer (talk) 05:16, 24 September 2020 (UTC)

I was reading through the style archive and spotted this topic which I've recreated here because I recalled a British government style guide I saw recently when I was browsing the GOV.UK site. I don't browse that site often, btw, only when I need to use it! I recently had to complete a tax return for good old HMRC (they owe me money, not the other way around!) and needed to download their form. The site is actually very good, unlike the government.
Although these guidelines are British, not American, we could usefully adopt them here. As you can see, the emphasis is on ethnicity and not race – that applies throughout British business and industry. Expressions like "non-white" are unacceptable and we write "black", "brown" and "white" impartially. We don't capitalise unless, obviously, the word begins a sentence or we are stating a nationality instead of an ethnicity. I think the section headed "Phrasing" encapsulates everything quite well, bearing in mind the section headed "Ethnicities and nationalities" which makes the valid point that some ethnic groups like Bangladeshi, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani are also nationalities.
It's interesting that Hayford was surprised to see "black" in The Mischief Makers, written in 1982. The Race Relations Act 1965, enacted by Harold Wilson's Labour government, was the first really effective legislation to address the issue of racial discrimination in Britain. Other legislation has followed. By 1982, the publishing industry knew full well which way the wind was blowing and would not risk being accused of discrimination. John (talk) 12:13, 10 May 2023 (CDT)