T Dog’s Think Tank: When it comes to diversity, capitalizing a letter isn’t enough

So major news organizations will now capitalize the words black and brown with a capital B. Well, here’s a thought starting with a capital “B” – Big deal. 

[Editor’s Note: An earlier draft contained some profanity, which has since been removed. – T. H.] 

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis – triggering protests and uprisings around the country, there has been a call for more diversity in every facet of the media business. And here’s what has happened so far:

Beginning immediately, the words “black” and “brown” are being capitalized in news publications.

That’s all.

The Chicago Sun-Times joined other publications Monday announcing they are capitalizing the “B” in black and brown when referring to their communities. Other publications making the moves include the Los Angeles Times, NBC News, and USA Today.

In a joint statement, Sun-Times CEO Nykia Wright and Executive Editor Chris Fusco said: 

To our readers:

On Monday, we joined the growing list of news organizations around the country that have opted to capitalize Black when using the word to describe a culture, ethnicity or community of people. We made this decision after engaging in dialogues with people inside and outside our newsroom and company, including readers and employees.

We also instructed our journalists that in the event the terms Black and Brown are used together to collectively describe a group, we will capitalize the “B” in both words, such as “Black and Brown communities.”

Our decision puts Black on the same level as Hispanic, Latino, Asian, African American and other descriptors.

We also told our journalists to continue to lowercase the “w” in white.

Our decision to capitalize Black is an acknowledgment of the long-standing inequities that have existed in our country, and the unique role that Black art and culture have played in our society. Cultural trends among white people, e.g. Italian Americans, Irish Americans, etc., are much more disparate, which was a key factor in our decision not to capitalize white.

We’re hopeful that you, our readers, will understand — and appreciate — this distinction.

The B is now capitalized when we refer to “black” and “brown” communities. And that’s supposed to address diversity?

It’s a good idea, especially referring to black people outside the United States.  But here’s the thing:

For one, use of the word “black” in U.S. publications has been declining for years, preferring to use the word African-American (I use both terms on the blog.) The idea is kind of dated – maybe this would have been big news in 1980.

Second, the move really does nothing to address the inequalities that continue to exist in newsroom across the country. For years, I’ve been calling for more diversity in journalism and to be more sensitive to minority communities.

Case in point: On June 8, the Sun-Times ran a stereotypicial piece on why an African-American family decided to leave Chicago behind long ago to escape the violence that plagues the city in a piece you’d normally find on Breitbart or The Daily Caller, proving conservative publications don’t have a monopoly on tabloid-like headlines when it comes to crime and how it relates to the African-American community.

Reacting to two of their family members getting murdered on East 95th Street on May 31 – a day where looting and violence broke out on the South and West sides of the city and set a single-day homicide record with eighteen killed. The family – using language more reserved for right-wing talk show hosts on Fox News said “third world countries were safer than Chicago“, now resides in British Columbia, Canada. The article was your typical Chicago news media piece describing African-American communities for the last decade – offering no insight or analysis, just another piece of “journalism” designed as glorified “clickbait” (of course, the Sun-Times mentioned the wrong neighborhood where the deaths took place – it tells you how much they don’t care about the South Side.)

I’ll tell you this – an African-American person didn’t write this story. Or didn’t make the decision to publish it. But hey the word “black” is being capitalized! What a triumph!

Ironically, the idea to capitalize “black” and “brown” came from former National Association of Black Journalists president Sarah Glover, who is now social strategy manager for the NBC Owned Television Stations, which includes WMAQ-TV and WSNS-TV here.

“There is momentous change across America that we are bearing witness to. Don’t let change pass us by,” Glover said in a statement. “Journalism and media companies must have a reckoning with themselves, reflect upon their own practices and also shatter systemic racism that exists within the mighty bowels of the free press.

“Capitalizing the ‘B’ in Black to describe people and the community is a fitting first step.”

It is a first step – but it’s not enough.

As I said over and over and over again, there needs to be more diversity in journalism – particularly in newsrooms, where decisions are still made primarily by white men. It’s little wonder mistakes pop up in news reporting from time to time. I said this back in September, but of course I keep repeating myself and no one ever listens. Many in Chicago feel newsrooms are racist, and crap like the Sun-Times article mentioned above does not help.

A bigger goal of racially diversifying newsrooms needs to be achieved. But judging by the garbage Sun-Times article I cited and how stubborn things are in Chicago when it comes to race, I wouldn’t hold out any hope. Capitalizing a goddamn letter isn’t going to change anything.


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