Guidelines for Racial Identification
The use of racial identifiers in the media was for decades a means of singling out those who were not white. The practice helped form and fuel stereotypes and continues today to push a wedge between people. We can handle this delicate material better if we flag every racial reference and ask these questions:
- Is it relevant? Race is relevant when the story is about race. Just because people in conflict are of different races does not mean that is the source of their dispute. A story about interracial dating, however, is a story about race.
- Have I explained the relevance? Journalists too frequently assume that readers will know the significance of race in stories. The result is often radically different interpretations. That is imprecise journalism, and its harm may be magnified by the lens of race.
- Is it free of codes? Be careful not to use welfare, inner-city, underprivileged, blue collar, conservative, suburban, exotic, middle-class, Uptown, South Side or wealthy as euphemisms for racial groups. By definition, the White House is in the inner-city. Say what you mean.
- Are racial identifiers used evenly? If the race of a person charging discrimination is important, then so is the race of the person being charged.
- Should I consult someone of another race/ethnicity? Consider another question: Do I have expertise on other races/cultures? If not, broaden your perspective by asking someone who knows something more about your subject. Why should we treat reporting on racial issues any differently from reporting on an area of science or religion that we do not know well?
For additional information, see The Diversity Style Guide and AP Stylebook's guidelines for race-related coverage.
Keith Woods, Race and Ethics, The Poynter Institute.