“It doesn’t get any easier than this,” said Sarah Glover, an executive at NBC and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, referring to a move that The Washington Post would go on to characterize as “the simplest way to begin establishing trust with the black community.” Namely, capitalizing the word “Black” when referring to a racial group who just a few decades ago were the subject of an activist campaign to re-christen themselves “African-American.”
At the time of its coinage, “African-American” was seen as conferring a degree of dignity beyond “black.” It was a new term that, as the journalism professor Lori L. Tharps, writing in The New York Times, put it, “wasn’t tainted by a racist history.” “Black tells you about skin color and what side of town you live on,” Jesse Jackson said in 1989. “African-American evokes discussion of the world.” But while the formerly hyphenated term has caught on, it’s ironically the latter half of the term that has caused activists to revert to its predecessor. “Black,” as the Associated Press put it in a post announcing a change to its style guide, “conveys an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa.” “Black” was itself a politicized word held to confer a degree of dignity beyond “Negro,” which came to be capitalized after a letter-writing campaign started by W. E. B. Du Bois.