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Heart Day 2015

Words matter: our decision to capitalize White

charlotte.linton 10/27/20

At Children’s Alliance, we are working to dismantle the barriers kids face to brighter, stronger futures. 

Because these barriers were erected through public policies that disenfranchised and impoverished families of color, our work focuses on crafting new, better policies. Alongside parents, policymakers and community-based leaders, we pave paths to opportunity where obstacles once stood.  

In the nearly five months since the police murder of George Floyd ignited protests across the country, staff at Children’s Alliance have had a chance to see our work in fresh ways. One of the many staff discussions we’ve found ourselves having is over the capitalization of words that denote groups of people.  

Capitalizing Black has long been a Children’s Alliance practice, along with other racial and ethnic descriptors. White, though, has not. We’ve decided to change that practice, and capitalize White. 

This matters because words matter. Capitalizing White, when referring to people identified as such, may help render visible the forces that have shaped racial inequality in the U.S. since the beginning. To expose this force is to subject it to challenge.  

The historian Nell Irvin Painter made this point eloquently this summer. Black Americans, she says, live with what W.E.B. Dubois dubbed the double consciousness of racial identity from which White Americans are usually free. “However much you might see yourself as an individual,” she writes, “if you’re black, you also have to contend with other people’s views.”  

Whites, by contrast, “have had the choice of being something vague, something unraced and separate from race. A capitalized ‘White’ challenges that freedom, by unmasking ‘Whiteness’ as an American racial identity as historically important as ‘Blackness’ — which it certainly is.” 

If we are to end the epidemic of racism against Black and Brown people, we have to scrutinize the forces in play. And since racism has clear beneficiaries, it’s our hope that a capital W will encourage those who see it to subject Whiteness to the same scrutiny long held up to Blackness. 

In certain contexts, for example in press communications or publications with partners, we will follow stylistic norms expected by key partners, including the Associated Press, which leaves White lowercase. But language changes at the pace of culture, and the AP, too, may follow the lead of CNN and the National Association of Black Journalists

We want to know how you’re thinking about racial identity and the power of words. Drop us a line: action@childrensalliance.org.