I’m a Black Scholar Who Studies Race. Here’s Why I Capitalize ‘White.’
I haven’t always capitalized the ‘W’ in my own writing, but I do now
In recent days, multiple well-respected journalistic outlets have announced to much fanfare that, having reflected on the rapidly shifting American racial landscape, they will be capitalizing “Black” as designations for people and cultures. Some have also clarified why they’re not capitalizing “white.”
“Black is an ethnic designation; white merely describes the skin color of people who can, usually without much difficulty, trace their ethnic origins back to a handful of European countries,” wrote Mike Laws in the Columbia Journalism Review on June 16, before the article was updated with revised language. Dean Baquet and Phil Corbett of the New York Times wrote that “there is less of a sense that ‘white’ describes a shared culture and history.”
Unfortunately, this choice runs the risk of reinforcing the dangerous myth that White people in America do not have a racial identity.
I haven’t always capitalized “White” in my own writing, but I do now. Here’s why.
Whiteness is not only an absence. It’s not a hole in the map of America’s racial landscape. Rather, it is a specific social category that confers identifiable and measurable social benefits. We were collectively reminded of that this past week, when Mark and Patricia McCloskey of St. Louis stood outside their home pointing loaded firearms directly at peaceful protestors making their way down the street. In that moment, the McCloskeys held the lives of strangers in their hands. They could have murdered any of those Black people that day, and history both distant and recent suggests that they may have been able to do so with total impunity.
When we ignore the specificity and significance of Whiteness — the things that it is, the things that it does — we contribute to its seeming neutrality and thereby grant it power to maintain its invisibility.
Meanwhile, Black people, from Tamir Rice to Darrien Hunt to John Crawford, and countless others whose names we…