(CNN)Albert Broussard's intention to capitalize one letter in one word may impact millions of children around the US and how they learn about race.
Broussard, a longtime history textbook writer for McGraw Hill and a history professor at Texas A&M University, is planning to capitalize the b in Black in a lengthy revision to a history textbook used in American middle and high schools. His revisions are happening as civil unrest grips the nation and while experts argue that change is needed in how Black history is taught in the US.
Whether to capitalize the b in Black is also part of an ongoing historical debate on racial identification that dates back to sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois more than a century ago.
McGraw Hill is one of the country's largest K-12 textbook publishers that may use Black capitalized following protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed May 25 after a White police officer was seen on video pressing his knee onto his neck.
The ultimate decision on whether a capitalized Black will be used in Broussard's revision will be made by McGraw Hill's internal staff editors, authors and academic advisers, which is a diverse group of people, the company told CNN over email. The publisher is "strongly considering it," McGraw Hill said.
"I just personally would like to see it capitalized because I think African American and Black are used interchangeably by most people in the population," Broussard said. "If you start children out thinking about Black or White or any group that way, that's how they will think about them for the rest of their lives."
McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are purveyors of the final drafts of history. While it is unclear how many textbooks each company sells each year, more than $209 million worth of K-12 social studies books were sold in the US in 2018, according to data provided to CNN by the Association of American Publishers.
The Associated Press and New York Times were among numerous publishers of the first drafts of history to capitalize Black recently. CNN made the same decision and will also capitalize White.
Cengage, an education and technology company which has nearly a dozen different K-12 history programs and books in the US, will capitalize Black and White while Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will be capitalizing Black.
"Cengage has undertaken a review of our textbooks and learning platforms for both higher ed and K-12 to evaluate our standards and practices. The capitalization of 'Black' and 'White' has been raised for consideration as part of this review, and is being adopted in texts where pertinent to the discussion, including the most recent edition of AP Human Geography," the company told CNN in a statement.
These decisions have been praised by teachers and education experts alike.
The educational habits children develop can make a difference
A shift from using black to Black in K-12 textbooks is a step in the right direction, said Michael Hines, an assistant professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education.
"It's a recognition of the significance of the fact that Black people throughout the African diaspora share commonalities of history, culture and identity," Hines told CNN over email.
This was a sentiment shared by Gerardo Muñoz, a social studies teacher who has taught in Denver Public Schools for 21 years. He is a producer and co-host of the podcast "Too Dope Teachers and a Mic" which addresses race and education in the US.
"It is very important, in my opinion, to use Black instead of black. In a very subtle way, black minimizes the importance of being Black. Because Black Americans were ruthlessly and abruptly cut off from their own national and ethnic identities, they don't have the privilege of attaching a homeland, spiritual or otherwise, to their American identity," Muñoz told CNN over email.
Many educators and experts agreed that the use of a capitalized Black in textbooks only works if teachers explain its importance. These sorts of classroom conversations can have a lasting impact on young impressionable minds, said Shawn Matson, a high school history teacher in Madison, Wisconsin.
Nkemka Anyiwo, a developmental psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied how messages youth receive about race affect their development. These messages, also known as "racial socialization," play a significant role in how young people understand themselves, she told CNN through email.
Schools build the foundation of young people's knowledge and play a crucial role in the racial and sociopolitical socialization of young people, Anyiwo said.
While the longtime use of lowercase black in textbooks may seem minor, "it can operate as an implicit form of racial messaging that perpetuate Black inferiority," she added.
"We have to ensure that teachers have the competency to clearly explain the importance of and impetus behind the language transition," Anyiwo said. "Young people may not understand the significance of the transition without explicit conversations with teachers about the historical and political significance of 'Black' as identity and America's historical legacy of using 'black' as a tool to disenfranchise."
This is not the first time Black people have wanted a letter capitalized
Du Bois and Edward A. Johnson, the late teacher who was also the first Black member of the New York legislature, fought to change how descendants from Africa were written about and identified.
Du Bois campaigned vigorously for the capitalization of the word Negro roughly a century ago when it was the accepted term at that time, said Hines, the Stanford professor.
In 1910, the US Census included an item called "color or race" for the first time. The instructions permitted people to use "Mu" for mulatto and "Ot" for other and "B" was called "black," Pew Research Center reported. The word black "included "all persons who are evidently full blooded negroes."
Du Bois, one of the founders of the NAACP, started a letter-writing campaign in the 1920s calling on publications such as The New York Times to capitalize the letter N in Negro.