The Lowercase Black is a Color, Not a Person: New AP Stylebook Changes You Should Know Right Now

By Alyssa List, PRSA Orlando VP, Finance

The AP Stylebook made notable changes in its latest edition, updating its guidance on a number of relevant topics like race, gender-neutral language, and terms related to the coronavirus pandemic.  

One important change was the capitalization of Black when using it as an adjective that refers to racial, ethnic or cultural implications. The Associated Press said the decision to capitalize Black came after “more than two years of in-depth research and discussion with colleagues and respected thinkers from a diversity of backgrounds, both within and from outside the cooperative.”

On a recent Twitter #APStyleChat, AP said it is continuing to discuss whether to capitalize the term white, and if it will have any global impact. The decision will come within a month, AP said in a Twitter post.

African American is acceptable for those in the U.S, but the term is not interchangeable with Black. However, AP generally says to follow an individual’s preference, and be specific when possible.

A few other relevant changes:

  • Do not use either Black or white as a singular noun, but plural nouns are generally acceptable when clearly relevant and needed for reasons of space or sentence construction.
  • Capitalize Pride when referring to events or organizations honoring LGBTQ+ communities and on subsequent references. The new update also adds that the plus symbol (+) should only be used when it is part of a company, brand or event name. Otherwise, spell out plus.
  • In general, use terms that can apply to any gender: chair or chairperson, firefighter, busser, hero, server, etc. Avoid unfamiliar constructions. However, don’t use congressperson; use terms like U.S. representative, representative or member of Congress.
  • Without a common gender-neutral word, use the masculine noun that assumes a general word: host, actor. However, use actress when referring to awards with actress in the name.
  • Older adult or older people is preferred over senior citizens, seniors or elderly.
  • When possible, ask people how they prefer to be described when referring to a disabled person or a person with a disability.
  • COVID-19 can be referred to as the virus, but COVID-19 is the name of the disease, not the virus. The virus is named SARS-CoV-2. Do not shorten to COVID, even in headlines, unless part of a quote. Also, do not refer to coronavirus without the article “the.”
  • Avoid the term pathogen. Use virus, bacteria, germs or bugs.

And equally important, I will end with an unchanged rule that is a pet peeve of mine if not used correctly: The period and the comma always go within the quotation marks.

Please refer to the latest AP Stylebook for additional nuances and updates. PRSA members receive a 20% discount on one single-user subscription to the AP stylebook Online. Go here for details.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *