Mixed views on capitalizing the ‘b’ in ‘Black’
Style Guide decision that became a youth talk about race
This post was originally published on Medium on March 5, 2022.
When I heard the yelling from the other side of the conference room, I wasn’t sure what happened. All I knew was this “youth mentoring event” was not going how I expected.
Earlier that day, I was told that a group of teenagers would be coming to visit our newsroom, and all the writers, editors and graphic designers were encouraged to attend. The 20-plus group of teenagers were Black, and this would more than likely be their first time seeing an all-Black staffed newsroom. If I were their age, I’d have been impressed. Somehow though, things went left with one particular girl.
I strolled in the room, ready to introduce myself and explain my role as a health beat reporter and web editor. But as soon as I walked through a set of entrance doors, I heard someone hiss, “What are you doing here?”
I looked down at one of the teenagers to see my own cousin. I smiled and pointed. He was not impressed. Initially, I was offended. This is a cousin who is happy to see me 99% of the time. What’d I do wrong just existing at work? It didn’t take me long to figure out what his issue was going to be. Two of his other (friends?) zoomed in on me and smiled. He scowled. I recognized that look of disgust. It was the same one I’d give my older brother any time a new girl wanted to be my “play sister” but conveniently always needed to know where my brother was. I took a mental note to stay away from them and just talk to the rest of the group.
But I was only in the room, in a different corner, for a few minutes before that previously mentioned girl shouted, “You all are racist. Why are all of you Black? Would you let white people work here?”
One of the archivists tried to calm her down while I looked on in confusion. As one of the braver newspapers of its time more than a century ago, this publication was widely delivered by Pullman Porters beyond the Mason Dixon Line. The Ku Klux Klan hated the company so much that it tried to confiscate the newspaper, but still, the delivery was vast. Almost 117 years later, and out of print for the past three years, it’s still around.
Somehow though, this young lady took issue with the entire publication. She pointed to a page in the newspaper and ranted about why the “b” in “Black” was capitalized. My lip curled upward. I don’t know why, but I looked at my cousin, trying to figure out what this girl’s deal was. He averted eye contact with me. I started wondering if he was mad I was there because of his friends’ interest, or was he more embarrassed to be with this group. The archivist asked the young lady to leave the conference room to talk to her alone. I went back to my office. This was a bit much for me.