Critical race theory (CRT) argues that racism is an intrinsic part of US systems and institutions, and that people are either oppressed or have privilege based on their race. The term has been misused by some groups and organizations to describe any teachings about racism or critical examination of US history. An explanation of what critical race theory actually is and how the term may be misused or weaponized in certain cases for political gain is important for clarity.
Cultural appropriation is the taking of signifiers or artifacts of a culture not one’s own without any context of the original culture. It contrasts with cultural appreciation, a good-faith effort to explore and connect with another culture.
Decolonization is active resistance to colonialism, which attempts to shift power dynamics and focus from colonizers to the colonized nation or Indigenous nation or country.
Discrimination is unfair treatment based on specific characteristic(s) of a person or group of people, such as race, age, or gender identity. It can affect access to employment, health care, housing, education, and more. Exploring the systemic factors that entrench and contribute to discrimination adds vital context to discussion of the issue in media coverage.
Diversity involves the composition of a group or a community of people. It can refer to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, and disability, among other identities and experiences. Diversity should be used to describe groups or populations rather than individuals, as a person cannot be “diverse.”
When writing about the institution of slavery in the US, many advocates offer the term “enslaved person” to separate a person’s identity from their involuntary circumstance. Similarly, many argue that using “enslaver” rather than “owner” or “master” serves to disempower the enslaver and humanize the enslaved person. However, some scholars argue that phrasing such as “enslaved person” amounts to sugarcoating the brutal reality of slavery.
Ethnicity is a social construct that refers to common cultural markers such as language, ancestry, beliefs, and customs that may be used to identify groups of people (or that they may use to self-identify). As with any identifier, following a person’s preference whenever possible, including only when pertinent to coverage, and identifying people equally (don’t only identify people of one ethnicity but not others) is important for precision. Compound ethnic identities do not need to be hyphenated (e.g., Indian American, British Nigerian, etc.).
A federally recognized Tribe is a legal description of a government-to-government relationship with an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity. A federally recognized Tribe may also be called a federally recognized Indian Nation, band, pueblo, community, or Native village; understanding the terms that members of these communities use to self-identify is helpful for accuracy and clarity. Explaining a Tribe’s status as recognized or unrecognized, and how that status affects issues facing the community, adds vital context for readers.
A hate crime as defined by the Justice Department is “a crime motivated by bias against [perceived or actual] race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.” Since the legal standard for a hate crime is narrow and may be difficult to determine, especially in a breaking news situation, adding hedging language such as “possible” or “alleged” may be necessary until further information is available.
While the US Census Bureau uses “Hispanic,” and Pew Research Center uses “Hispanic” and “Latino” interchangeably, some draw a distinction between the two terms, arguing that Hispanic refers to individuals from Spain or from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, while Latino signifies individuals from Latin America regardless of language. Several gender-neutral alternatives to Latino/a have gained use recently, including Latinx, Latin, and Latine, though they are not always popular with the communities they purport to describe. As with any identifier, being as specific as possible and taking into account an individual’s preference whenever possible ensures coverage accurately reflects how someone self-identifies.
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.
Police brutality is the use of excessive force against people by law enforcement. It disproportionately affects Black and brown people. Mentioning racial disparities in police killings in related stories, and linking to a reliable source such as Mapping Police Violence, can help illustrate the scope of the issue.
Collective trauma refers to society’s interpretation of and reaction to a calamity that affects an entire community. Commonly used examples of events that caused collective trauma include the Great Depression, 9/11, the enslavement of Black people, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Exploration of the ways collective trauma can manifest in individuals and communities adds essential context to news coverage.
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.
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