The Orion

Racial and ethnic identification

Mark Plenke

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Identification of a person as a member of any population group should be limited to those cases when that membership is essential for the reader’s complete understanding of the story; it should be done with great care so as not to perpetuate negative group stereotyping. When identifiers are used, it is important that the correct one be used. Check the AP Stylebook for help with racial and ethnic identification.

The following was taken from “The Los Angeles Times” style and usage guide. 

Mention the racial and ethnic background of people only when it is relevant to the story. When racial and ethnic identification is relevant, such identification requires sensitivity. When deciding whether to mention someone’s race, ask yourself the following questions:
• Is the ethnic or racial identification needed?
• Is the ethnic or racial identification important to the context of the story?
• Is the story complete without reference to race or ethnic identification?
• Are the terms used likely to be considered offensive?
• Have I asked the subjects of the story how they wish to be identified?

If there is any question about whether ethnic or racial identification is appropriate, accurate or offensive, take it up with your editor, the managing editor and faculty advisers.

The following are guidelines on racial identification:

Do not use a hyphen in expressions of dual heritage.

white Use this word in racial designation. It is considered the most inclusive and accurate term. In special cases, for example, in a story in which a white Latino needs to be identified as such, do so. Consider using terms describing dual heritage; there is nothing wrong with the term Irish American or Italian American. The question is whether such identification is truly relevant to the story.

colored In the United States and some other countries, the word colored is considered derogatory and should not be used.

Native Americans Indigenous peoples of the continental United States may be calledNative Americans or American Indians, depending on the subject’s choice. Whenever possible, use the subject’s specific tribal affiliation or background: Bob Lynch, a Red Cliff Chippewa, not Bob Lynch, a Chippewa Indian or Bob Lynch, a Native American.

 Asian Americans Asian American is the preferred general term for U.S. citizens of Asian descent. If the information is relevant to the story, it is best to specify the nation of origin:Japanese American, Chinese American or Korean American. Asians should be a last resort in referring to U.S. citizens because the word may mislead the reader. In headlines, use Asian Groups or Asian Americans.

 Arab Americans Arab Americans is acceptable terminology, but it is best to identify distinct national groups, for example, Syrian American and Iraqi American.

African-American  Both African-American and the adjective black are acceptable. Keep in mind that a black person is not necessarily an African-American and that an African-American person is not necessarily a black person. People of Caribbean origin, for example, may choose not to be called African-American.

Jews Take care in generalizing about Jews in stories. Jews are not a race, a nation, a religion only. Jews consider themselves a people, with highly individualized adaptations of expressions. Jews can be ritually observant or not; they can share some customs and not others. Use Jew only as a noun, as any other usage is considered offensive.

Latinos This is the umbrella term for Spanish-surnamed groups in the United States, including Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central Americans and South Americans. A Latino woman is Latina. Keep in mind that Latino is a ethnic group, not a race. Use Hispanic in quotes or in proper names or if the source expresses that preference. Remember Spaniards are not Latinos.

Eskimos  is acceptable in general references. More detailed stories about specific native cultures of Alaska’s west and north coast should include the ethnic sub-designation: Inupiat Eskimos or Yupik Eskimos. Some use the term Inuit for these native people. Follow the preference of those involved in the story.

illegal immigrants Use this term in referring to citizens of foreign countries who have come to the country with no passport, visa or other document to show they are entitled to visit, work or live in the United States. Do not use illegal aliens or illegals in headlines or text unless they are in direct quotations. Use undocumented workers if the context fits.

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Racial and ethnic identification