Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 14th of those posts. Mitra Norowzi is junior majoring in Journalism and English. She freelances at InHerSight and works as an editorial assistant at academic journal Southern Cultures.
When it comes to editing for AP style, I like to take the “Pirates of the Caribbean approach” – as the character Hector Barbossa says, “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”
This has been especially true for me when making editing decisions relating to identity. When I served as an editorial intern at InHerSight during the summer of 2018, I was tasked with cobbling together a style guide for our content since the editorial side of the site was relatively new. Because InHerSight tackles workplace inequality through an intersectional feminist lens, it was extremely important that our style guide reflected that. I used The Associated Press Stylebook as a starting point, but I had to make my own calls on some terms including:
Use LGBT+ instead of LGBT or LGBTQ. This was a difficult call, but after reading a lot of discourse on the subject, I decided that LGBT wasn’t as exclusive as I would have liked, but while some often add a “Q” for “queer” at the end as an umbrella term for everyone else, I saw that many members of the community were not comfortable with this term. Historically, “queer” has been used as a slur against the gay and transgender communities, and it’s true that many individuals are choosing to reclaim the term, but I didn’t think it was my place to cast it onto everyone when it still invokes pain and violence for some people.
Don’t use “people of color” if you mean Black Americans or African Americans. Many issues do not have the same contexts or consequences for people of different minority groups, so avoid using umbrella terms if you’re really only talking about one specific group. Additionally, don’t be afraid to use “Black Americans.” After all, “African Americans” implies that the group of people is of African descent, but some Black people might not have recent or significant ties to Africa.
Use Latinx instead of Latino and Latina. Beyond unnecessarily gendering a group, Latino/a only takes into account binary genders, excluding those who identify outside the gender binary.
I had to declare these rules for the site because in this arena, I didn’t feel the 2018 AP Stylebook’s entries on identity were nuanced enough. So, I was really excited to see that the updates for the 2019 edition offered much more thoughtful options. This is what the revised entry for “race-related coverage” now says:
Reporting and writing about issues involving race calls for thoughtful consideration, precise language, and an openness to discussions with others of diverse backgrounds about how to frame coverage or what language is most appropriate, accurate and fair. Avoid broad generalizations and labels; race and ethnicity are one part of a person’s identity. Identifying people by race and reporting on actions that have to do with race often go beyond simple style questions, challenging journalists to think broadly about racial issues before having to make decisions on specific situations and stories.
I really think this entry nails it. AP does list some more specific changes to make, but I appreciate that overall. It encourages writers and editors to evaluate their race-related language on a case by case basis. I think having a rigid, unyielding approach to something as dynamic as race is a recipe for disaster, so I like that AP is moving away from that. Here’s a quick summary of the more specific updates when it comes to race.
Race: Think about whether including a racial descriptor is necessary. Often it’s not, but there are some cases, like when police are searching for a suspect, where a physical description is appropriate. However, once a suspect has been apprehended, including their race is no longer appropriate.
Racist or racism: Casting someone or something is a pretty serious statement, but basically the AP says, if the shoe fits. If you can identify specific racist doctrines, you need to label them as such. No waffling around with euphemisms like “racially charged” if the subject is clearly, objectively racist.
Black(s), white(s): While the terms “blacks” or “whites” are acceptable as plural nouns or adjectives, do not use them as singular nouns.
Dual heritage: No hyphen.
African American: No hyphen. Not necessarily interchangeable for all black people. For example, some black people prefer “Caribbean American.”
Asian American: No hyphen. It’s an acceptable term, but be more specific by identifying someone by their country of origin if possible — for example, saying Chinese American rather than Asian American.
Caucasian: Avoid using this term unless it’s in a quote.
People of color, minority: Generally acceptable to use to describe people that are not white in the United States. Avoid using the acronym POC or calling someone a minority unless it’s said in a quote.
Transracial: Just don’t use this term.
Latino/Latina: Although some prefer the new term “Latinx,” only use this term in direct quotes or in the names of people or organizations who request it, and provide a brief explanation of what it means. For groups of women, use “Latinas,” and for mixed groups use “Latinos.”
Hispanic: Follow a person’s preference. Be more specific by identifying someone by their country of origin if possible.
American Indians, Native Americans: Both are OK in reference to two or more members of different tribes in the United States. For individuals, identify them as members of specific tribes.
Reverse discrimination: Just use “discrimination” instead.
Generally, I think these changes are a marked improvement, and many mirror the changes that some editors have already made. Although I disagree with AP’s decision to limit use of “Latinx,” I approve of the updates and the nuanced approach to race that AP is recommending.