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Race and Ethnicity


The term “woke” originated as a slang term among Black American communities to describe the idea of waking up to systemic injustices and prejudices, and staying alert to how they manifest in everyday life. Use of the term dates back to as early as the 1930s, but the term by many accounts became popularized via Erykah Badu’s 2008 song “Master Teacher” and then spread into wider awareness via the #staywoke Twitter hashtag in the mid-2010s following the police killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. If using the term “woke,” it’s important to keep in mind both its origins in African American vernacular and its current popular use largely on the political right as a pejorative catch-all term pushing back against movements for racial justice and other civil rights efforts, as well as “cancel culture.

affirmative action

Affirmative action is the name for steps or actions that consider the representation of historically excluded or underserved groups to achieve more equitable access to education, employment, and legal protections. If discussing, especially in an employment context, it’s important to understand that affirmative action policies are not interchangeable with “diversity initiatives” and “equal opportunity employment”; some explanation of the distinctions is helpful for clarity. 

African American

The term African American is used to describe people and cultures of African descent with longstanding roots in the United States. Though African American and Black are often used interchangeably, the former may be understood as a marker of an ethnic and cultural identity as opposed to a strictly racial one. More recent immigrants in particular may identify with country- or ethnicity-specific categories (e.g., “Haitian American,” “Afro-Latine”). As with any such identifier, when necessary and relevant to coverage to include, taking into account an individual’s preferred terms wherever possible ensures coverage accurately reflects how they self-identify.

anti-Black / anti-Blackness

“Anti-Black” is used to describe actions, attitudes, systems and behaviors geared toward subjugating, dehumanizing, and/or discriminating against Black people or Blackness. When exploring disparities in health, income, education, and more among Black communities, it’s important to explore the effects of anti-Blackness, at both a systemic and an individual level.

antiracism / antiracist

Antiracism is active resistance to racist policies and practices. The burden of education about racism and systemic inequities, in this view, should not rest solely on those most directly affected.

Asian, Asian American, AAPI

AAPI stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which includes a vast array of nationalities, cultures, and languages. Some argue that both “AAPI” and “Asian American” flatten and/or erase important cultural, economic, educational, religious, and other differences that exist between groups and communities. Nuanced coverage will take care to explore those differences when and where relevant. Taking into account an individual’s preference and being as specific as possible ensures coverage accurately reflects how someone self-identifies.

Black / black

Black is the racial term used to describe people with roots in the African diaspora; physical markers that may typically be used to distinguish those considered Black from other racial groups include skin tone and hair texture. Though African American and Black are often used interchangeably, the former may be understood as a marker of an ethnic and cultural identity as opposed to a strictly racial one. Following an individual’s preferences when determining if, when, and how to use either identifier, including the capitalization of Black, ensures coverage reflects how a person self-identifies.

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter is a global political and social inclusive movement that seeks to end white supremacy and violence against Black communities. Though many protests and demonstrations against racism and anti-Blackness may employ the slogan Black Lives Matter, the grassroots movements are distinct from the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.

brown / Brown

Some stylebooks choose to capitalize this term, though those who argue against capitalizing often point out that “brown” as used in the US is an imprecise term and does not carry the same connotation of a shared social experience and history as the term Black. As with any such identifier, being as specific as possible and following an individual’s preference whenever feasible ensures coverage accurately reflects how someone self-identifies.

coded language

Coded language consists of seemingly neutral terms that actually describe identity (often racial or ethnic identity) and carry negative connotations. It may be useful to include the histories of terms such as “massage parlor” and “inner city,” which are often used in coded ways, as well as the hidden meanings of other coded language, to ensure these terms are being used only when appropriate and with sufficient context and explanation.

Last updated 01/27/23

Race and ethnicity are critical aspects of people’s and communities’ identities. They have often been viewed as interchangeable but are two distinct identifiers. This section of the Language, Please style guidance aims to help journalists accurately cover the nuances in stories surrounding race and ethnicity, recognize the systemic and interconnected ways that race and ethnicity shape experiences, and write stories with care and concern for the individuals involved.

This resource was informed by questions and discussions from our own newsrooms. It is a living document that will update and expand over time. It is not meant to be comprehensive or the definitive arbiter of language “rules” but instead aims to give context and inform thoughtful decision-making. Have a suggestion for an update, change, or addition? Please get in touch.

How to use: Browse the whole section or search for the term you need guidance on; click into any term for in-depth context, additional resources, and related terms. 

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