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Writing about culture, ethnicity and race

This section of the style guide is meant to help writers respectfully and accurately cover subjects related to culture, ethnicity and race. These topics won’t always be relevant in an article, but when they are, it’s important to write about them with care.

General terms#

First, learn more about some terms used to talk about culture, ethnicity and race:


The YWCA guide defines culture as “[a] shared way of life among a social group. This shared way of life includes commonalities in: geography, language, history, traditions, rituals, belief systems, etc.”


Merriam-Webster defines the adjective ethnic as “of, relating to, or characteristic of a minority ethnic group.

The Diversity Style Guide recommends journalists rethink how they use this word. The guide says: “Ethnic food. Ethnic music. Ethnic restaurants. Ethnic fashion. The word ethnic is frequently used to describe things that come from countries outside North America and Western Europe or cultures other than White. Like exotic, the word connotes otherness and can be seen as marginalizing and offensive.”

Instead of describing something generically as ethnic, the guide advises: “use the specific country or culture the food or music comes from. When writing about things from multiple cultures, use terms like international music, global food or world cuisine. In addition, the word ethnic should never be used to describe a person.”


In an essay for Conscious Style Guide, lexicographer Kory Stamper says most dictionaries define ethnicity as “a person’s cultural identity, which may or may not include a shared language, shared customs, shared religious expression, or a shared nationality (especially outside that nation’s borders).” It’s considered a more specific description than race.

The YWCA guide points out that “ethnic groups are self-formed and identified, whereas racial groupings were created by a single group and imposed on everyone else.” White settlers in North America, for example, grouped people from multiple, distinct ethnic groups into a single racial category labeled “Indians, American Indians or Native Americans.”

Stamper explains the importance of context in how the word ethnicity is used, saying: “Someone born to Japanese parents in the Bay Area of California and raised in San Francisco may identify racially as Asian (a broad category based on ancestral origin and some shared physical characteristics) but ethnically as Japanese, American, Japanese American, or maybe even San Franciscan (a cultural identity that can include shared customs, religion, nationality, or language). Or none of the above. The answer depends on who the speaker is talking to and why the listener is asking.”


In an essay for Conscious Style Guide, lexicographer Kory Stamper says that the definition of the word race has changed over time, but now “most dictionaries agree that race is often used to describe one of several very broad categories that people are divided into that are biologically arbitrary yet considered to be generally based on ancestral origin and shared physical characteristics (especially skin color).”

The website for the United States Census Bureau says: “The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically.”

The YWCA guide explains one historical use of the word race: “[a] theoretical invention of a European scientist used to separate and rank human beings into three distinct biological categories: Caucasoid (European), Negroid (African) and Mongoloid (Asian).” The European scientist was interested in asserting the Caucasoid race, to which he considered himself to belong, to be superior. (see: racism)

YWCA describes race as “[a] social rather than biological construction.”

A social construction, according to the YWCA, is “[a]n unreal ‘real’ thing. Social constructions are not ‘natural’; they do not exist outside of language and human imagination; in this sense they are unreal. However, our way of life is built upon the belief in or dedication to socially constructed categories such as ‘race.’ As such, though ‘unreal’ social constructions have real world consequences for all of us.”

Those consequences come from racialization, which YWCA defines as “[t]he ongoing process by which we all are shaped by racial grouping or ‘racialized’ by structural policies/practices, institutional/organizational cultures, and interpersonal interactions.” Race Forward’s guide mentions that “[h]ow one is racialized is a major determinant of one’s socioeconomic status and life opportunities.” Racialization does not seem to be in many style guides, so do not assume readers know what it means.

The American Psychological Association recommends against using "nonparallel designations" (by, for example, grouping or comparing "African Amercans and Whites" or "Asian Americans and Black Americans"), as "one group is described by color, whereas the other group is not."


The AP Stylebook defines racism as “a doctrine asserting racial differences in character, intelligence, etc., and the superiority of one race over another, or racial discrimination or feelings of hatred or bigotry toward people of another race.”

Race Forward points out that “[r]acism isn’t limited to individual acts of prejudice, either deliberate or accidental. Rather, the most damaging racism is built into systems and institutions that shape our lives.”

It’s important to be specific when talking about racism. AP says: “The terms systemic racism, structural racism and institutional racism refer to social, political and institutional systems and cultures that contribute to racial inequality in areas such as employment, health care, housing, the criminal justice system and education.” The guide advises using these specific terms rather than shortening them to just racism.

As opposed to describing individuals as racist, AP recommends describing specific words or actions (or practices or policies) as racist—or, if it’s more appropriate, “xenophobic, bigoted, biased, nativist, racially divisive, or in some cases, simply racial.” AP advises against using terms such as “racially charged, racially motivated or racially tinged, euphemisms which convey little meaning.” It also recommends writers “[p]rovide context and historical perspective when appropriate to help convey the impact or implications of the words or actions.”

Style guide#

This is a selection of more specific terms. You can find many additional entries in the guides referenced.


The AP Stylebook defines antisemitism as “[p]rejudice or discrimination against Jews.” This term should be written as a single word, not hyphenated to read anti-Semitism, which the stylebook explains “could give credence to the [racist, pseudoscientific] idea that Jews are a separate race.”

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance explains: “The philological term ‘Semitic’ referred to a family of languages originating in the Middle East whose descendant languages today are spoken by millions of people mostly across Western Asia and North Africa. Following this semantic logic, the conjunction of the prefix ‘anti’ with ‘Semitism’ indicates antisemitism as referring to all people who speak Semitic languages or to all those classified as ‘Semites’. The term has, however, since its inception referred to prejudice against Jews alone.”

According to the AP Stylebook, the term “was coined in the 19th century by the German writer Wilhelm Marr, who opposed efforts to extend the full rights of German citizenship to Jews. He asserted that Jews were Semites — descended from the Semitic peoples of the Middle East and thus racially different from (and threatening to) Germany’s Aryans.”


Merriam-Webster defines Asian as “of, relating to, or characteristic of the continent of Asia or its people.”

But in its guide, Covering Asia and Asian Americans, the Asian American Journalists Association points out that the meaning of the term varies: “In some usage, chiefly British, ‘Asian’ refers to Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and others. In the United States, such ethnic groups would be known as South Asians, while Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and others would be known as East Asians.”

Be more specific, if possible. If race is pertinent to the story, ask your source for their preference on what term(s) to use. Do not use the outdated term Oriental, which AAJA describes as “[a] vestige of European imperialism,” “a term of condescension” and “at minimum… vague.”

Just as you would not call someone who is African American simply "African," do not call someone who is Asian American simply "Asian."

AAPI, which stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, is an acronym “widely used by people within these communities” but may not be familiar to readers outside of them, the AP Stylebook notes. AP recommends: “Spell out the full term; use AAPI only in direct quotations and explain the term.”

biracial, multiracial#

The AP Stylebook says that biracial and multiracial are “[a]cceptable, when clearly relevant, to describe people with more than one racial heritage. Usually more useful when describing large, diverse groups of people than individuals.”

In its Race Reporting Guide, the organization Race Forward points out: “Many terms for people of various multiracial backgrounds exist, some of which are pejorative or are no longer used.” AP recommends: “Avoid mixed-race, which can carry negative connotations, unless a story subject prefers the term.”

AP says: “Be specific if possible, and then use biracial for people of two heritages or multiracial for those of two or more on subsequent references if needed.” If race is pertinent to the story, ask your source for their preference on what term(s) to use.


Merriam-Webster defines Black as “of or relating to any of various population groups of especially African ancestry often considered as having dark pigmentation of the skin but in fact having a wide range of skin colors.” The Diversity Style Guide points out that Black can encompass a variety of identities, including “Black, African American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and African immigrants living in the United States.”

If race is pertinent to the story, ask your source for their preference on what term(s) to use. The AP Stylebook says: “Follow an individual’s preference if known, and be specific when possible and relevant. Minneapolis has a large Somali American population because of refugee resettlement. The author is Senegalese American.

AP recently updated its guidance on the capitalization of the word Black; it now advises writers: “Use the capitalized term as an adjective in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies, Black colleges.” The stylebook explains: “Use of the capitalized Black recognizes that language has evolved, along with the common understanding that especially in the United States, the term reflects a shared identity and culture rather than a skin color alone.”

The National Association of Black Journalists style guide “recommends that whenever a color is used to appropriately describe race then it should be capitalized, including White and Brown.”

blue collar/white collar#

Merriam-Webster uses blue-collar to refer to “the class of wage earners whose duties call for the wearing of work clothes or protective clothing,” and white-collar to refer to “the class of salaried employees whose duties do not.” The dictionary points out that the adjective blue-collar is often used to describe something “having, showing, or appealing to unpretentious or unsophisticated tastes.”

The Global Press Style Guide says to avoid using both terms, as they “are outdated, imprecise and force readers to make assumptions.” For the same reasons, the guide also recommends avoiding the similar phrase working class. Instead, “[w]hen relevant, provide precise descriptions of jobs, including local context, information about pay and working conditions.”


The term Brown, a racial identity distinct from Black or White, is used by individuals from a variety of groups, including “Arabs, South Asians and Latinos,” notes philosophy and law professor Kwame Anthony Appiah in an article in the Atlantic. But it’s not always clear which groups Brown refers to, as evidenced by a somewhat inconclusive episode of the radio show Code Switch, “Ask Code Switch: Who Can Call Themselves ‘Brown’?

AP says to “[a]void this broad and imprecise term in racial, ethnic or cultural references unless as part of a direct quotation,” as “[i]nterpretations of what the term includes vary widely.” Race Forward recommends erring on the side of being more precise, saying they “believe it is a better practice to actually name the group/ethnicity being referenced. For example, instead of saying, ‘Black and Brown,’ we would recommend saying, ‘Blacks and Latinos,’ if in fact, Latinos were the group being referred to in this case. ‘People of color’ can in some cases serve as a collective term for non-Whites.”

The National Association of Black Journalists style guide “recommends that whenever a color is used to appropriately describe race then it should be capitalized, including White and Brown.”

In a comment in a conscious language Facebook group on April 26, 2021, Karen Yin of Conscious Style Guide recommended thinking about whom the term Brown excludes. “If certain groups of color are excluded from Black and Brown, and if racial discussions revolve around only White, Black and Brown people, then what happened to the rest of us? How much have the perpetual exclusion and invisibility of Asian Americans contributed to recent hate crimes?”


The Asian American Journalists Association defines Desi as “[a] colloquial name for people of South Asian ancestry, especially those of India and Pakistan. Pronounced “DAY-see” or “DEH-see,” it is the Hindi word for ‘from my country.’”


The National Association of Black Journalists defines dialect as “[l]anguage forms, particularly oddities of pronunciation and syntax, that are peculiar to a region or a group.” NABJ generally recommends avoiding direct quotes from sources who speak in a dialect “if it renders the speaker as ignorant or makes the person a subject of ridicule.” The Asian American Journalists Association similarly recommends paraphrasing comments from sources who speak limited English rather than quoting directly, as “[p]idgin English often invites racial stereotyping.”

dual heritage, compound nationalities/ethnicities#

Do not hyphenate terms such as African American or Asian American when using them as a noun or adjective. As former Los Angeles Times style book overseer Henry Fuhrmann writes for Conscious Style Guide, using a hyphen “in racial and ethnic identifiers can connote an otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not fully citizens or fully American.” The phrase hyphenated Americans was once a commonly used derogatory term.


The Asian American Journalists Association says: “Some Filipino Americans, often younger, prefer Pilipino [over Filipino] because Tagalog (pronounced tuh-GAW-lug), the leading dialect of the Philippines, lacks an ‘F’ sound.”


Merriam-Webster defines foreign as “born in, belonging to, or characteristic of some place or country other than the one under consideration.” The Global Press Style Guide says: “Use the word foreign in reference to specific things that do not originate in the country of a story’s dateline. Do not use foreign to describe people.”

geographic references#

The Global Press Style Guide says: “Use precise place names, even when a location is not widely known, always adding geographic markers that specify distances from capital cities or relevant landmarks.”


The Asian American Journalists Association points out that Hawaiian “[r]efers to a person who is of Polynesia descent. Unlike a term like Californian, Hawaiian should not be used for everyone living in Hawaii.” Similarly, The Diversity Style Guide uses the term Native Hawaiian, explaining: “Known as Kanaka Maoli in Hawaiian, Native Hawaiians trace their lineage and language to Polynesians, including Tahitians, Maoris and Samoans.”


The terms Latino, Hispanic and Chicano, which generally refer to people who can trace their ancestry to Spanish-speaking countries other than Spain, are similar but not identical in meaning or history. If race is pertinent to the story, ask your source for their preference on what term(s) to use. AP advises: “Use a more specific identification when possible, such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian or Mexican-American.”


According to AP, Latino can be used to refer to “a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America.” Latina is the feminine form of the word, and Latinx is a gender-neutral form, pronounced “La-teen-ex.” The Diversity Style Guide also includes the gender-neutral spelling Latin@.


The Diversity Style Guide calls Hispanic “an umbrella term referring to a person whose ethnic origin is in a Spanish-speaking country, as well as residents of the United States with Latin American ancestry, except for those from Brazil, which is not a Spanish-speaking country”—though the Mother Jones style guide points out that some Portuguese-speaking Brazilians have adopted this identity as well. The Diversity Style Guide says the term Hispanic “is more commonly used in the Eastern United States and is generally favored by those of Caribbean and South American ancestry or origin.”


According to the AP, Chicano refers to “Mexican Americans in the US Southwest.” The Diversity Style Guide points out that the terms Chicano and Chicana were originally derogatory, but they were reclaimed “in response to discrimination against Mexican Americans working under unfair labor and social conditions.” Some people prefer the gender-neutral spelling Chican@.

Middle East/MENA#

According to the AP Styleguide, the term Middle East “generally applies to southwest Asia west of Pakistan and Afghanistan (Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the eastern part of Turkey known as Asia Minor, United Arab Emirates and Yemen), and northeastern Africa (Egypt and Sudan).” AP says that “[s]ome consider Libya and other Arabic-speaking countries of the Maghreb to be part of the region.”

The AP does not use the acronym MENA. The Diversity Style Guide defines MENA as an “[a]bbreviation for the region known as the Middle East and North Africa.” The Office of the United States Trade Representative counts as part of MENA Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The Diversity Style Guide says: “People of MENA descent can mark ‘White, including Middle Eastern’ or ‘some other race’ on [U.S.] Census forms. Use Middle Eastern or North African descent on first reference.” (see: White)

The American Psychological Association recommends: "When writing about people of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) descent, state the nation of origin (e.g., Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel) when possible. In some cases, people of MENA descent who claim Arab ancestry and reside in the United States may be referred to as 'Arab Americans.' In all cases, it is best to allow individuals to self-identify."


People use many terms to describe the movement of people. It’s important to be precise and understand what each one means.


The National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ Cultural Competence Handbook says: “Asylum-seekers are people seeking international protection from conflict and persecution.”


NAHJ says: “Exiles are people who have been thrown out or forced to flee authoritarian regimes.”

internally displaced#

NAHJ says: “Internally displaced people are seeking safety in other parts of their country.”


NAHJ defines migrants as “people moving to another country for other reasons beyond conflict and persecution.”


NAHJ says: “Refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution.”


NAHJ says: “Returnees are people who have returned home after being displaced.”

The NAHJ handbook says to avoid terms such as illegal immigrant or illegal alien, saying that they “replace complex and ever-changing legal circumstances with an unspecified assumption of guilt.”

NAHJ points out that “[n]either of these terms clarify if a person came here legally, and their visa expired, or if a person is in a state of legal limbo, waiting for paperwork to be processed, nor does it explain if that person—regardless of whether they are an adult or child—has been processed in an immigration court, and is awaiting a decision regarding their application for asylum. A person’s legal status could change because of a variety of other factors, and the use of the word ‘illegal’ obscures this complexity. Moreover, it should be noted that people accused of other misdemeanors are not referred to as ‘illegal’ in any context.”

The NAHJ handbook recommends using terms such as: newest Americans, newcomers, undocumented citizens, unauthorized immigrants, families who have moved from one place to another, and people who weren’t born in the United States. The Mother Jones style guide adds: undocumented immigrant and people without legal immigration status.

Avoid the word expat, which, according to the article “‘Expat’ and the Fraught Language of Migration,” refers to “someone who lives and works abroad for a temporary period of time but plans to return to their home country,” but in practice is usually reserved only for “highly paid and highly educated” migrants.

minority-serving institutions#

The US Department of Education defines minority-serving institutions as “institutions of higher education enrolling populations with significant percentages of undergraduate minority students, or that serve certain populations of minority students under various programs created by Congress.”

The terms used to describe those institutions include: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institution, Tribal College or University, Alaska Native-serving institution, Native Hawaiian-serving institution, Predominantly Black Institution, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution, and Native American-serving nontribal institution.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities recommends capitalizing these terms.

An institution where White students make up “50% or greater of the student enrollment” is called a predominantly White institution, or PWI. The Encyclopedia of African American Education notes that “the majority of these institutions may also be understood as historically White institutions in recognition of the binarism and exclusion supported by the United States prior to 1964.” (p. 523)

Native American#

Merriam-Webster defines Native American as “a member of any of the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere.”

The AP Stylebook says it’s acceptable to refer to multiple people of different tribal affiliations as American Indians or Native Americans. The NAJA Reporting and Indigenous Terminology Guide, published by the Native American Journalists Association, mentions that individuals may have a preference between these terms, so if you can, it’s best to ask.

For individuals, specify which tribe they are a part of instead of using general terms. NAJA explains: “While many Indigenous people share a common history of oppression and colonialism, tribal nations are diverse and different; failing to use the actual name of the tribe you are reporting on is neither accurate, fair or thorough and undermines diversity by erasing the tribe’s identity.”

According to AP: “Some tribes and tribal nations use member; others use citizen. If in doubt, use citizen.”

AP says to refer to Indigenous groups in Alaska as Alaska Natives and Canadian groups as First Nation.

Other important terms:

Indian Country#

As NAJA explains, Indian Country is a legal term, but “it also has popular usage, describing reservations, lands held within tribal jurisdictions and areas with American Indian populations.”


AP says to “capitalize this term used to refer to original inhabitants of a place.” As NAJA clarifies, capitalizing Indigenous distinguishes it—used to describe someone’s identity—from indigenous—used to describe a plant or animal.

NAJA urges writers to “avoid referring to Indigenous people as possessions of states or countries.” For example: “Instead of ‘Wyoming’s Indigenous people,’ try ‘the Indigenous people of Wyoming.’”


According to NAJA: “The term ‘Native’ can be used as an adjective to describe styles. For instance, Native fashion, Native music, or Native art. Journalists should exercise caution when using the word, though, as it is primarily used as slang.” The book Elements of Indigenous Style notes that the term Native “has fallen out of use in Canada for the most part… The term is problematic because of possible confusion with its wider definition of a ‘local inhabitant or life form,’ and because it does not denote that there are many distinct Indigenous groups.” (pg. 58)


AP says to use tribe to describe “a sovereign political entity, communities sharing a common ancestry, culture or language, and a social group of linked families who may be part of an ethnic group.” It should be capitalized when part of a formal name. AP says to “identify tribes by the political identity specified by the tribe, nation or community: the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation.”

Other considerations:

  • The Radical Copyeditor published a guide “Thirty Everyday Phrases that Perpetuate the Oppression of Indigenous Peoples.” In it, Kapitan writes: “It might seem harmless when your boss mentions the need for a powwow among the company’s executives or an online quiz promises to reveal your spirit animal, but everyday language like this is a result of centuries of violence and continues to perpetuate stereotypes that have real-life impacts on Native communities.”
  • The book Elements of Indigenous Style notes: “An entire lexicon of terminology commonly used in reference to Indigenous Peoples came out of the discipline of anthropology, and to a lesser extent, archaeology. Both disciplines tend to view Indigenous Peoples as remnants of the past, and many terms tend to denigrate and dehumanize Indigenous Peoples. They have often presented Indigenous Peoples as ‘primitive’ societies that should be documented before they inevitably develop into modern, Western-based peoples (i.e., ‘the vanishing race’). These precepts clearly go against the Indigenous cultural principles that Indigenous Peoples have vibrant, evolving cultures based on ancient fundamentals.” (pg. 52)
  • Elements of Indigenous Style cautions writers and editors to watch out for “how the attitudes of colonialism are embedded in word choices,” explaining: “Colonial language communicates paternalism—the idea that Indigenous Peoples are not capable of thinking and acting for themselves. Paternalism shows up in word choices like this: ‘The Numbered Treaties provided First Nations with reserves, education, and health care.’ The problem here is that First Nations sound like passive recipients of benefits, instead of active negotiators of Treaty Rights.” (pg. 75-76)
  • Elements of Indigenous Style also advises: “Avoid the common error of describing Indigenous Peoples in the past tense.” (pg. 97)
  • The Native American Journalists Association published a flowchart to help reporters decide whether a source can serve as an Indigenous expert. The main message: Make sure you find an actual expert, instead of just interviewing any Indigenous person with an opinion.
  • As writer Debra Utacia Krol, an enrolled member of the Xolon Salinan Tribe, mentions in an article in The Open Notebook, organizations that can help you find an expert include the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries & Museums and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.
  • Krol advises in the article: Do as much research as you can before you talk to someone. NAJA’s Tribal Nations Media Guide lists questions reporters might ask when covering tribal nations.

non-English words and names#

accent marks#

The Global Press Style Guide says: “Always use accent marks to accurately spell names of people and places, using any necessary or preferred characters that websites can reproduce.”

government bodies/institutional names#

The Global Press guide says: “For names and bodies presented in English, spell the name exactly as the organization spells it. For names not in English but that use the Roman alphabet, use the original language version of the name, followed by a brief description of that body’s function. If the body has its own English name in addition to a local language name, use the English name to ensure reader clarity… Only translate names in a non-Roman alphabet, indicating that the name was translated by the publication.”

naming conventions#

The Global Press guide says: “Source names should be presented in such a way that sources recognize themselves in stories and are referenced with dignity, and in keeping with how they are known in their communities.”

Specifically: “On first reference, present names in an order that reflects local conventions, according to source preference. In cases where a name is presented in an order that does not follow the order of the first or given name followed by family name or surname, add an explanation for ready clarity. When a source has multiple or compound surnames, respect source preference for the name used on second reference.”

non-English words#

The Mother Jones style guide says: “Italicize foreign words that don’t appear in Webster, on first use. Don’t italicize on later uses.” But if a word comes from a living language that some readers may speak, err on the side of not italicizing.

Restaurant critic Patricia Escárcega of the Los Angeles Times announced in a newsletter that the publication’s food section would no longer italicize non-English words, saying: “Italics are intended to facilitate clarity by signaling to readers that they haven’t stumbled onto a typo. But many writers, me included, believe that the words we choose to italicize—and thereby highlight as ‘foreign’—can have an ‘othering’ effect. Here’s a brief sampling of words that we have italicized in recent months: shawarma; al pastor; pollo asado; birria; carnitas; taquitos de papa; chicharron; salsa verde; taquero; and salsa roja. Seeing the foods many of us grew up eating italicized can feel jarring and alienating. Who are we writing for when we decide to italicize ‘salsa roja?’”

On the other hand, the Asian American Journalists Association recommends: “To help the reader, include a phonetic rendering of possibly unfamiliar words. (e.g., ‘Tagalog, pronounced tuh-GAW-lug, is the leading language spoken in the Philippines.’)”

Consider how an article will read both to someone familiar with the non-English terms and to someone not familiar with those terms.

Pacific Islander#

The Asian American Journalists Association calls this a “U.S. Census term, referring to one of eight groups—Fijian, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Northern Mariana Islander, Palauan, Samoan, Tahitian and Tongan.”

people of color#

Merriam-Webster defines person of color as “a person whose skin pigmentation is other than and especially darker than what is considered characteristic of people typically defined as white.” (The AP Stylebook advises against using person of color to describe an individual.)

The strength of an umbrella term such as people of color is that it recognizes commonalities shared by multiple groups that face racial discrimination. The term becomes problematic, though, when people use it to avoid saying exactly which group of people they are talking about.

AP says that people of color “is acceptable when necessary in broad references to multiple races other than white: We will hire more people of color. Nine playwrights of color collaborated on the script.” But it says to “[b]e specific whenever possible by referring to, for instance, Black Americans, Chinese Americans, or members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.” The stylebook also gives alternatives such as “people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds; diverse groups; various heritages; different cultures.”

Race Forward notes: “Racial justice advocates have been using the term ‘people of color’ (not to be confused with the pejorative ‘colored people’) since the late 1970s as an inclusive and unifying frame across different racial groups that are not White, to address racial inequities. While ‘people of color’ can be a politically useful term, and describes people with their own attributes (as opposed to what they are not, eg: ‘non-White’), it is also important whenever possible to identify people through their own racial/ethnic group, as each has its own distinct experience and meaning and may be more appropriate.”

Similar terms include Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and women of color (WOC).

In an opinion piece in Newsweek, Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, Chief Diversity Officer at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and writer Andrea Plaid argue against the use of the term BIPOC, saying that the term sets up a “hierarchy of oppression.” They explain: “While we appreciate highlighting the unique experiences of Black and Indigenous folks, what about the histories and realities of Latino Americans and Asian Americans?”

The UK organization Sporting Equals published a statement criticizing the term BAME for similar reasons, saying: “The term BAME collates large swathes of groups together and places recognition on some communities whilst ignoring others entirely. The emphasis of such behaviours tends to be on the physical differences of some while relegating ethnic and cultural complexities.”

YWCA defines WOC as: “1. Political (not biological) identity of solidarity among and across Minoritized ethnic communities historically referred to as ethnic minorities or non-White people. 2. A term used to disrupt the Black/White racial binary in the U.S. 3. A linguistic tool of inclusion and reminder that people of the African diaspora are not the only people who have been racialized or have been impacted by institutional and structural racism.”

YWCA notes: “Our use of this term is not to suggest that all Women of Color are the same, or that the term is accepted and used by all. The creation of the Women of Color framing came out of political discussions among social activists about how to represent the common needs of various women from Minoritized racial/ethnic communities.”

Puerto Rico#

Merriam-Webster describes Puerto Rico as an “island in the West Indies east of Hispaniola; a self-governing commonwealth in union with the U.S.”

The Global Press Style Guide says: “Do not refer to Puerto Rico as an island, as it is made up of multiple islands. Refer to the people of Puerto Rico as Puerto Ricans, only noting the terms of their U.S. citizenship when relevant to the story. Do not refer to the United States as the mainland. Use the United States or the U.S. government in favor of generic geographic references that may convey bias.”

Roma, Romany, Romani#

Merriam-Webster defines Romani as “a member of a traditionally itinerant people who originated in northern India and now live chiefly in south and southwest Asia, Europe and North America.” Use this rather than the term Gypsy, which Merriam-Webster explains comes from a misconception that the Roma people originated in Egypt. The Diversity Style Guide says: “In general, it’s best to use Romani or Roma people when referring to the ethnic group unless people self-identify as Gypsies.”

The guide says to avoid the term gyp, “which means to cheat or swindle,” as it “likely comes from Gypsy and is seen as a negative stereotype of Roma as swindlers and thieves.”

Third World#

Merriam-Webster defines Third World as “the aggregate of the underdeveloped nations of the world.”

The Asian American Journalists Association points out that the term Third World came about during the Cold War “to describe the portion of the globe that was non-aligned with either the West or Communist powers.” The Diversity Style Guide explains that it has transformed into a more generic term, with negative connotations.

The Global Press Style Guide advises against describing countries as Third World, or using the related terms developing world, emerging economy or Global South, as such descriptors “are geographically imprecise, do not have widely-accepted definitions and are generally used as sanitized synonyms for poverty.”

“Using generalized terms to imply poverty across large land areas and countries that have little else in common reflects bias and defines complex communities by foreign standards of wealth,” the guide says. “Instead, include economic data relevant to a story’s news value.”


Merriam-Webster defines White as “any of various population groups considered as having light pigmentation of the skin.”

It notes: “The meaning of white as it relates to population groups has historically been fluid, with people of particular ancestries being excluded for a time being included, and vice versa… Specific parameters are, however, sometimes set, as in the U.S. 2020 Census, which stipulates that ‘the category of ‘White’ includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” (see: Middle East/MENA)

The National Association of Black Journalists “recommends that whenever a color is used to appropriately describe race then it should be capitalized, including White and Brown.”

In an article arguing in favor of capitalizing the term White, poet and sociologist of race and education Eve L. Ewing explains: “Whiteness is not only an absence. It’s not a hole in the map of America’s racial landscape. Rather, it is a specific social category that confers identifiable and measurable social benefits… Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than the powers of this shield is its seeming invisibility, which permits White people to move through the world without ever considering the fact of their Whiteness. This is an incredible feat, through which White people get to be only normal, neutral, or without any race at all, while the rest of us are saddled with this unpleasant business of being racialized…When we ignore the specificity and significance of Whiteness—the things that it is, the things that it does—we contribute to its seeming neutrality and thereby grant it power to maintain its invisibility.”

If race is pertinent to the story, and your source is White, this is the one circumstance in which it’s not entirely up to them how they identify. The Radical Copyeditor explains in the article “Ask a Radical Copyeditor: Are There Limits to Self-Identity Language?”: “When it comes to accurately describing dominant characteristics, that’s a really different situation. I don’t get to say, ‘I’m not white; that word doesn’t resonate with me.’ Regardless of whether or not I identify with the word/concept white, I am white. It’s an accurate descriptor. When a marginalized person claims language to describe their oppressed identity, they are speaking themself into existence in a society that is trying to annihilate them. When a privileged person rejects an accurate descriptor of their privileged status, they are refusing to acknowledge that they are privileged—that there are particular hardships they get a pass on because of this facet of who they are.”

You can be more specific, using terms such as Italian American. Avoid Caucasian as an alternative to White, because of the history of the term (see: race).

For more arguments in favor of capitalizing the W in White, see: