‘In the grand scheme…’: NY Times columnist takes exception to newspaper capitalizing ‘black’

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Self-described woke vocabulary skeptic John McWhorter says that he refrains from capitalizing the word “black” when writing about African-Americans. At the same time, he’s not necessarily opposed to doing so.

He suggested, however, that people should not lose sight of “practical problem-solving” rather than what some traditionalists might view as mere symbolism or perhaps virtue signaling.

The prominent pundit, author, and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute explained that he uses the old-school lower-case b when he submits his opinion columns to the New York Times.

The news organization’s editors change it to upper case, however, he explained in a piece for the Times itself which is headlined “Capitalizing ‘Black’ Isn’t Wrong. But It Isn’t That Helpful, Either,” an essay that is apparently meant to answer a recurring question.

Most corporate news outlets updated their house editing style guide to include the upper-case B in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder last May and the nationwide protests that followed.

“Fair enough,” McWhorter, a Columbia University professor of linguistics noted about the style change. “But in the grand scheme of things — with which I try to be concerned — I have a hard time caring that much whether we write ‘black’ or ‘Black.’…”

“With the ‘black’ issue, my ultimate sentiment is that we spend an inordinate amount of time concerning ourselves with how matters of power and diversity are expressed. I suspect that activists and agitators of yore would find our obsession with such things rather peculiar and worry that it siphoned off energy from more grounded efforts,” McWhorter, who earned a PhD in linguistics from Stanford University and is fluent in three languages and can read seven, added.

“I know that terminology can matter…But the capitalization issue is about style and usage, rather than replacing one word with another, and the written rather than the spoken word. And it seems to me that people can process the written word ‘black’ as having many meanings, just as they do when it’s spoken, when, of course, no capitalization is possible,” he also asserted.

McWhorter also implied that there are more meaningful ways to achieve socioeconomic advancement beyond language use.

“So: It’s fine with me that others embrace the capitalization of ‘Black.’ Maybe I will someday. But when I think of social change, my mind lingers more on, say, the Year Up program, which offers underresourced high school graduates an all-tuition-paid job training program directing them to positions in finance, I.T. and other fields while also assisting them with progress toward a college degree…Compared to this type of practical problem-solving, ‘black’ or ‘Black’ just isn’t as interesting.”

Readers can review the entire editorial to gain the full context.

In his new book “Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.” McWhorter, who reportedly has described himself as a cranky liberal Democrat, alleges that the woke movement is like a cult of self-hatred and public self-flagellation.



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