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Column: Honoring shared, diverse heritage with our language
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

This summer, the Associated Press made the decision to begin capitalizing Black in reference to race, but not white. 

The Times, and most newspapers across the country, follow the Associated Press’ style guide on topics as varied as whether to abbreviate the word “street” in 345 Green St. and how to refer to those of Hispanic heritage. I’ll come back to this question of race in a bit, but first some background on AP style.

The AP Stylebook is sometimes referred to as the journalist’s Bible. It lays out most of the rules of language we follow. Editors are trained to follow it to a “t” in most cases.   

It may seem irrational to some to see an editor fly into a rage because a reporter once again filed a story where an age was spelled out: a girl who is “nine” instead of 9. The girl should only ever be 9 years old. Also, she is a 9-year-old, never a 9 year old.  

This is the kind of nitpicky stuff that can drive an editor insane. And yes, I’m one of those editors. If you see the word “coworker” instead of “co-worker” in The Times, you can bet I’m at my desk restraining myself from typing out an angry message to the staff: “It’s co-worker. Co-worker! There’s a hyphen!”  

Then periodically, AP changes its rules. Inanimate objects could be referred to as nine years old, but now their age too is referred to only in numerals. More generally, numbers below one through nine are spelled out and numerals are used for any number 10 and higher. 

Some of the changes AP makes cause an uproar. In 2014, AP ruled that the word “over” could be used where only “more than” had been allowed before. For example, “over” a hundred people got upset about it. Whereas before, “more than” a hundred people got upset about it, never ever “over” a hundred people. Now, either way is fine. AP style nerds like myself still get the itch to correct this one, and it was well more than a hundred people who took to social media to complain. 

Then, of course, there are the more meaningful changes like the recent ones made in regard to race. Here’s some of what AP argued in its decision to capitalize Black but not white: 

“White people generally do not share the same history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color,” according to the Associated Press. “In addition, AP is a global news organization and there is considerable disagreement, ambiguity and confusion about whom the term includes in much of the world.” 

I don’t always agree with the changes AP makes, but for consistency’s sake, we follow their rules. That was the case when they made this ruling on race. However, we do in rare cases deviate from AP. An AP writer is producing content for a much wider and often international audience. Those same rules don’t always best serve our audiences. 

This week, our editors and management reviewed AP’s reasoning and policies at other newspapers and made the decision that The Times will capitalize both Black and White in reference to race. We believe there are shared cultures for both Black and White residents.  

We also understand there is diversity in both cultures, and society’s attempts to categorize people will never capture the depth of how these experiences shape who we are.  

There are Caribbean immigrants who don’t identify as African American. There are people of mixed race who identify with multiple backgrounds. Hispanic is considered an ethnicity rather than race, leaving some to consider themselves White while others mark the “other” box. 

There are White people who recall family stories of the persecution their Irish or Italian ancestors suffered when they arrived on America’s shores. There are recent African immigrants who don’t share in the same history of the horrors of slavery and life under Jim Crow laws that so strongly influences others. 

When reporting broadly about race, The Times will follow AP style except in reference to these specific capitalization guidelines. The AP guidelines on race-related coverage are lengthy and advise not just on specific language to use but when to use it. 

“Consider carefully when deciding whether to identify people by race,” the AP stylebook reads. “Often, it is an irrelevant factor and drawing unnecessary attention to someone’s race or ethnicity can be interpreted as bigotry. There are, however, occasions when race is pertinent.” 

Our community is diverse. There’s a history of Scots-Irish descendants settling the North Georgia mountains. The Black community has a long legacy in the Newtown and Fair Street areas of Gainesville. More recently, Hispanic immigrants have come here looking for opportunity. There are so many others with unique backgrounds, whether longtime residents or those new to Hall County and the region. 

We will do our best to honor the diversity and the shared experiences we all have as part of this dynamic community.  

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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