By Kathy English for the Toronto Star
I have never fully understood the reluctance of media organizations to say yes to the increasingly frequent requests from Indigenous people and representatives of the Black community to capitalize the proper names of their people and their communities.
I know there are long-standing stylebook “rules” and conventions of language that have provided reasons for not capitalizing either “Indigenous” or “Black.” But, balanced against the questions of respect and fairness raised by not capitalizing these proper names and the passionate, intelligent requests to do so, I believe there is no contest here: Why not capitalize these words given how much it matters to those who care deeply about how the media depicts and names them? Why withhold something so simple — but clearly, so meaningful — as an uppercase letter?
To that end, I am pleased to tell you that the Toronto Star decided this week to begin capitalizing “Indigenous,” in all instances, and “Black” in reference to Black people, identity, community and culture. Black will remain lowercase only when it when it refers specifically to skin colour in a sentence such as, “People with black and brown skin are stopped and questioned by police at higher rates than white people.”
“Readers have been urging us to capitalize Black and Indigenous for some time as a mark of respect, just as we capitalize other ethnoracial terms such as South Asian, Latino and Roma,” said Anthony Collins, the newsroom’s style chief and co-chair of the style committee that recommended this change to senior management. Editor Michael Cooke signed off on this immediately.
To be clear, as Collins said in a memo to newsroom editors, the Star will not be capitalizing white or brown because “they do not describe a shared identity and experience the way Black does.”