Q&A: Erin B. Logan on the Capital B Black

After the Los Angeles Times committed to capitalizing the B in Black earlier this month, a wave of newsrooms around the country followed suit. 

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Black reporters have asked their editors to make the change for years, but the protests over the last few weeks have spurred a very specific kind of reflection and reckoning in some newsrooms. As Lori L. Tharps wrote for The New York Times in 2014: “Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora. Lowercase black is simply a color.”

At the L.A. Times, Metpro fellow and reporter Erin B. Logan led a lot of the push for the styleguide change. She’s also one of the few Black reporters in the newsroom. 

In order to understand she moved the conversation from words to tangible action from newsroom leadership, I talked to Logan about the change, her handy-flow chart (available on Twitter and Tumblr), and where the journalism field needs to go next. The conversation is edited for length and clarity. 

Gabe Schneider: What prompted your focus on getting your newsroom to change the B in Black to a capital letter? 

Erin B. Logan: I think we need to take a step back, because for some reason, the media thinks that African American and Black are the same thing. 

I personally think that’s very dehumanizing. Every time I read it, I cringe. One day I was sitting at my desk and I read a story and it referred to a Black Jamaican woman as an African American. I was just like, ‘What the fuck?’ 

I like angry-texted my friend, Jess, who is white. She’s one of my best friends. And I was like, Jess, does this make any type of sense to you? 

And she was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to be honest with you, Erin, it does, because when we were children, we were taught that African American, is more politically correct.’ 

And I’m like, okay, ‘But it’s like not though. It’s an ethnic group.’

So when she said that to me, I said to myself, ‘Okay, instead of me like cursing everyone out on Twitter, maybe there really is just like a sincere disconnect between the way that Black people identify and the way that the media is identifying them.’ Obviously that disconnect has probably been attempted to be mended internally by Black reporters. Wouldn’t surprise me. 

So I made this flow chart, because people just like were incorrectly saying someone is African American when they’re Black. So I made the flow chart. It was really janky the first round. I’m trying to scrub it from the internet permanently, cause it’s really janky. I made it out of clip art. 

So I went to my other friend, her name is Aida. And she made like a much better graphic and it got a lot more attention because it was now no longer ugly.

And people were just in my mentions like, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’

GS: So more specifically, at the L.A. Times, what led to the changes that executive editor Norman Pearlstine committed to in his letter to staff? 

EBL: I would not say that I started it, because, from my understanding, people on the copy desk that started this conversation like a hundred years prior. 

But I will say, in recent memory, as in 2020, it was in February that I made this ugly ass flowchart (that then became pretty). My purpose was solely so that people would stop replacing Black with African American. It’s incredible. There was this one story where a California public agency put out a survey and the chart that we use for the story says African American. 

And then I click on the link to the chart… and it says Black.

Why are you going out of your way to replace Black with African-American? 

So I shared that internally. And my friend [and audience engagement editor] Adriana Lacy tagged on [over Slack] and is like: ‘Now as we have explained why they’re two separate things, this just further makes the case to capitalize the B in Black.’ So it wasn’t just me. One retired editor on the copy desk said he said something about this a couple of years ago as well. 

GS: What do you think about the response nationally, with other newsrooms changing their style guide? 

EBL: I think that internally in a lot of newsrooms there is a reckoning happening over the treatment of Black journalists and Black staff. I think the L.A. Times is an established, respected paper, and I think that when established entities and people do things, it is heard. 

GS: Do you think that newsrooms around the country are going to do anything more?

EBL: At the L.A. Times, the executive editor emphasizes this is a very, very, very, very small step that they need to take. 

I haven’t really been reading the statements from other outlets, but my fear is this is an attempt to placate. There is deeply embedded, structural, systemic racism in every single newsroom across the country. In every newsroom I’ve heard of. The way in which you fix these problems is not easy. It’s getting rid of people who perpetuate a culture of toxicity and racism, hiring people to promote this culture of inclusion, equality, and diversity. And it’s something easier said than done. 

How do you tackle the monster that is white supremacy that has existed in our country and our newsrooms for 400 fucking years? 

Some people just need to step down because they’re either unwilling, they don’t care, or they’re just complacent and complicit with toxic racism. Some people need to step down. 

For example, that story that Yashar did about the woman at ABC who’s really fucking racist? She needs to go. You can’t treat people like that. You can’t treat people in the way that she treated people and think that she will be fixed by putting her in some anti-bias training sessions and some sensitivity training sessions. 

There’s a whisper network among Black journalists. And we know what the deal is. Every publication, we walk in the door, we know what the deal is. And some places are not as bad as others. Some places just have different problems and you cross your fingers, take a dive, and hope you’ll be one of the lucky ones who make it in this industry.

In order to publish this Q.A., Logan insisted that The Objective include a photo of her dog, Kacey. That photo is linked here.

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