Sun-Times joins move to spell ‘Black’ and ‘Brown’ with capital B

Chicago Sun-Times

The Chicago Sun-Times became the latest news organization to revise its style guide Monday by capitalizing the words “Black” and “Brown” when referring to “a culture, ethnicity or community of people.”

The style change, announced in an email to staff, follows similar moves by The Los Angeles Times, The USA TODAY Network, BuzzFeed News, NBC News, MSNBC and others.

Chris Fusco

“Our decision to capitalize Black is an acknowledgment of the longstanding inequities that have existed in our country, and the unique role that Black art and culture have played in our society,” Chris Fusco, executive editor of the Sun-Times, said in a statement. "Cultural trends among white people, e.g. Italian Americans, Irish Americans, etc., are more disparate, hence our decision not to capitalize white.

“We're hopeful our readers will understand — and appreciate — this distinction."

In an open letter last week, Sarah Glover, manager of social strategy at NBC Owned Television Stations and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, called on The Associated Press to update its style guide, widely regarded as the industry standard.

“There is momentous change across America that we are bearing witness to. Don’t let change pass us by,” Glover wrote. “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."

Here is the text of Fusco’s email to staff:

In recent weeks, readers and employees have inquired about our use of AP Style — black with a lowercase “b” — when referring to African Americans, people of Caribbean descent and people of African origin.

After listening to people both inside and outside our newsroom, we are making the following style guidelines and changes, effective immediately:

  • Whenever practical, we should strive to be as specific as possible when describing ethnicities in stories, e.g. African American, Latino, Latina, Asian and Native American.
  • We will capitalize the “B” in Black when referring to a culture, ethnicity or community of people. This puts the word on the same level as capitalized descriptors of people of color, e.g. Hispanic, Latino, Asian, etc.
  • In the event the terms Black and Brown are used to collectively describe a group, we will capitalize the “B” in both words, e.g. Black and Brown communities.
  • We will continue to lowercase the “w” in white, which is a wider descriptor of people of numerous origins. Of the city’s 4,767 firefighters and paramedics, 65.2% are white, 16.6% are Black and 15.9% are Hispanic. 

Should you have any questions about these changes, please reach out.