Race and ethnicity are not the same. The U.S. Census Bureau defines race as a person's self-identification with one or more social groups, which can include White, Black or African American, Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and/or Other Pacific Islander.
Federal statistical standards used by the Census and the National Center for Education Statistics, conceptualize a person's ethnicity into one of two categories: Hispanic(or Latino/a/x) or Not Hispanic (Latino/a/x). If a person is Hispanic/Latino, they can self-report/identify as any race.
Federal regulations from 2007 about racial and ethnic data require institutions of higher education to collect and report a single, mutually exclusive major racial/ethnic group for students in federal collections (e.g., IPEDS). A key feature of this is that students who identify as Hispanic are reported as Hispanic, even if they self-identify under one or more racial categories.
The fastest-growing demographics in the U.S. are "Two or More Races," the Asian population, and the Hispanic population. By 2044, there is expected to be no race or ethnic group in the U.S. that represents a 50 percent or greater share of the population. In this style guide we attempt to provide basic guidance on style for:
- African American/Black (the B in Black is capitalized; African American is not hyphenated)
- Hispanic/Latino/a /Latinx and related terms
- Asian American and Pacific Islanders and related terms (no hyphen)
- Native American and related terms (no hyphen)
- white (the W in white is not capitalized). Avoid “Caucasian” as this term is geopolitically inaccurate given its reference to the Caucasus region of West Asia. Its adoption as an ethnic classification for people of European descent in the United States is rooted in scientific racism and ought to be avoided.
Given the complexity and evolving nature of this topic, covering even the most common usage questions would make this section of the Diversity Style Guide unwieldy. That said, we want to continually update this section so it is as current, inclusive, and useful as possible.
General Writing Guidelines
- Avoid stereotypes.
- Place the humanity and leadership of people of color at the center.
- Ensure that headlines, images, captions, and graphics are fair and responsible in their depiction of people of color and coverage of issues.
- Use a multiracial lens and consider all communities of color.
- Use racial and ethnic identification when it is pertinent to a story and use it fairly, identifying white individuals if people of other races/ethnicities are identified.
Source: Race Forward
I. African American, Black
African American and Black are not synonymous. If you are including someone's race in the content you're creating, be sure it is necessary to mention it and ask the person how they prefer to be identified. A person may identify as Afro-Latino or Afro-Caribbean, for instance, or Haitian American or Jamaican American.
The Associated Press made the decision to begin capitalizing the b in Black on June 19, 2020.
African American is not hyphenated. Never use the word colored or Negro as a descriptor. Afro American is an archaic descriptor and should not be used.
In the body of a piece, it is preferred to use Black people and not Blacks to refer to a group.
II. Asian, Asian American
When writing about someone or a group of this background, ask the person how they prefer to be referred to. Specifically, if it makes more sense to refer to a specific background—e.g., Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino—use that term rather than a collective noun.
Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA): This is the preferred term to use, versus Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), or Asian American Pacific Americans. The latter is not incorrect, but for consistency's sake, we recommend the preferred use.
South Asian: This collective term refers to people from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Desi American is a term commonly used by people from India, but not by all South Asians. Check with the source/individual to confirm how they prefer to be identified and ensure that identifying their race/ethnicity is essential to the content you're creating.
III. American Indian, Alaska Native, Hawaiian Native, Native American, Native People, Indigenous People
The most inclusive and accurate term to use to refer to those who inhabited land that became the United States (or, previously, territories) is: American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN).
You may also see the terms:
- Native People(s)
- First People(s)
- First Nations
- Tribal Peoples
- Tribal Communities
- Indigenous People(s)
Always ask someone how they prefer to be identified, including Hawaiian Natives. The person may prefer that you refer to them by their tribally specific nation. If a tribal name is used, ask for a phonetic spelling of the name.
American Indians and Alaska Natives/Hawaiian Natives have a distinct political and cultural identification constructed in and through treaties, executive orders and the Constitution. American Indian and Alaska Native/Hawaiian Natives' cultural identification is place-based, diverse, and informed by the practices of their culture (e.g., language, singing, dancing, ceremonies).
IV. Hispanic, Latino/a, Latinx, Latin@, Chicano/a
Federal policy defines Hispanic as an ethnicity, not a race. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.
Latinx is increasingly used and is now the preferred descriptor, unless the individual or people discussed prefer another term.
While it is common to see Hispanic and Latinx/Latina/o used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. Hispanic generally refers to people with origins in Spanish-speaking countries. Latinx/Latino/a generally refer to people with origins in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Most Hispanics also identify as Latinx/Latino/a and vice versa. Generally, people from Brazil or Haiti do not identify as Hispanic, but may identify as Latinx/Latino/a.
In California especially, the preferred term is increasingly Latinx, because it is inclusive of a geographic region. Avoid the term "Latin" unless it is a reference to "Latin America."
Latina(s) is appropriate for individuals who identify as a woman/women, unless the person/people prefer Latinx.
Chicano/a is a term that refers to Americans of Mexican ancestry.
Again, be sure to ask the individual/group how they prefer to be identified. The individual may prefer, for example, a gender-inclusive and neutral term like Latinx, Latine, or Latin@, or a broader term, like Afro-Latino (the person may identify as both African or African American and Latino/a).
Also be aware of gender when using Latino and Chicano in your writing.
Latinidad and Latin@ are emerging terms that may be favored by younger generations.
Race and Ethnicity: Terms to Avoid
Do not use the term "colored person/people." Use a broader term, like "people of color," which refers to any person who is not white, especially in the U.S. You may see this referenced as "POC." This acronym may be used, but only after the phrase it stands for (i.e., people of color) is shared on first use.
In general, no racial or ethnic slur should ever be included in what you write. You may consider an exception if your content is about this slur (as in a research study examining use of the word) or, possibly, if it is essential to your piece and is used in quotes. In this case, ensure that its use is absolutely necessary and that your source has approved the attribution of the slur(s) to them.
This Atlantic article is useful in identifying when it might be permissible to use an ethnic slur in your writing. It's worth mentioning that the Department of Homeland Security considers the use of ethnic slurs a form of harassment on the basis of race and/or national origin in some circumstances.
Resources & Sources:
- American Indian & Alaska Native Alone & Tribe Los Angeles County, 2010 Census
- AP Stylebook's race-related coverage guidance
- Campaign for College Opportunity report on higher education in California and Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders (2015)
- Conscious Style Guide – Race, Ethnicity & Nationality
- Diversity Style Guide, Department of Journalism, San Francisco State
- Dr. Timothy Fong, Professor, Ethnic Studies / Director, Liberal Studies and Social Science Program (LSSSP) / Director and Principal Investigator, Full Circle Project, Sacramento State
- Dr. Theresa Gregor, Assistant Professor, American Indian Studies, CSU Long Beach
- National Association of Black Journalists Style Guide
- Dr. Maythee Rojas, Professor of Chicano and Latino Studies at CSU Long Beach
- Wikipedia – List of Ethnic Slurs