(Chelsea Conrad for NPR)
The name Scotland comes from a racial epithet the Romans used to describe pirates. The nation we know of as Egypt gets its name in most European languages from ancient Greek, even though the country is known to its inhabitants as Misr, a word with Semitic roots. Names given to indigenous peoples in the Americas have been called “an expression of colonial power.”
History is littered with examples of outsiders imposing names and ignoring the way communities — from ethnic groups and sovereign nations to artistic movements — refer to themselves collectively. Now, though, the right of communities based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity or other affinity to decide what they want to be called is widely accepted.
That is a welcome development, but it presents a quandary for journalists. On the one hand, identifying people according to their wishes is good journalism — it’s in keeping with our goals of accuracy, respect for the people we cover and a commitment to diversity.
But descriptors require the same kind of scrutiny as other facts we report on, for a number of reasons. People within the same community may differ as to how the community should be identified; some may see descriptors as obscuring crucial differences within or between groups; and even well-intentioned identifiers can be experienced by some as demeaning.
In some cases, one group’s self-identification may be triggering or problematic for another that uses similar terminology. For example, although the reasons differ significantly, many Jews don’t consider Messianic Jews to be Jewish; many Muslims, especially in Pakistan, don’t consider Ahmadi Muslims to be Muslim;and the LDS Church once asked journalists to stop using the term Mormon to describe members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
For all these reasons, language guides put out by affinity groups, HR departments, even news organizations, may not always serve a journalist’s needs.
So what’s the solution?
Here are five things you can do to reach a good decision on how to identify people:
1. If you are reporting about an individual, it’s relatively simple: Generally, you should go with how they self-identify. But first ask yourself this: Is this person’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc. necessary to understanding the story? And is it made clear in the story why it’s necessary? If not, clarify or leave it out.
2. If you need to identify a group, seek input from as many sources as possible within that group. Make sure you’ve also consulted your organization’s style guide or newsroom leadership and taken stock of any objections from outside sources.
3. Explain the descriptor (spelling out an acronym) if it’s reasonable to expect that some audiences won’t be familiar with it.
4. Be clear about who and what you are talking about, and make sure to point out the diversity and/or significant differences of opinion about the descriptor within the group, where relevant.
5. And remember, it’s often fine to just say “people.”
Why follow these steps? Because descriptors involve gray areas and complexity and sincere differences of opinion. They are better determined on a per-story basis, rather than expecting newsroom leaders and style guides to deliver all the answers.
Having said that, it’s advisable to have an array of style guides bookmarked — or on your bookshelf! NPR follows the AP Stylebook and also has its own guide. A number of journalism associations also publish style guides (see links below).
What follows here is not a style guide, but a list of a few descriptors journalists have struggled with lately, along with some background on the diverse viewpoints and gray areas — examples of the information you’d want to be gathering in Step 2 above. A number of journalists contributed helpful guidance for these descriptors, and it’s always a good idea to check in with newsroom leaders if you’re still unsure.
AAPI: This acronym, which stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, was added to the AP Stylebook earlier this year, with a recommendation to spell it out and a note that it is “widely used by people within these communities but is not as well known outside of them.” Some people feel AAPI covers too broad a range of communities, resulting in the flattening of cultures and erasure of their different experiences, an argument that is made about Asian American as well. When using this acronym, you’ll want to consider whether you’re trying to describe something that truly touches on the identities and experiences of most if not all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — and take care not to use Asian Americans as a synonym for Pacific Islanders.
BIPOC: Stands for Black, Indigenous, people of color. Advocates say it’s more inclusive than “people of color” and centers the particular histories of violence that people have inflicted upon Black and Indigenous people in the U.S. and other countries. Critics say BIPOC is too broad and suggest all the groups represented by the acronym face the same problems, when mass incarceration, police violence and substandard health care disproportionately affect Black and Indigenous people. For more on BIPOC, check out this Code Switch episode.
Gender and pronouns: A person may identify as cisgender, transgender and/or nonbinary. Transgender signifies a person whose gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. Cisgender means it does match. Nonbinary is an umbrella term for people whose genders are not man or woman. They could identify as neither, both or genderfluid. All of these descriptors should be used as adjectives, not nouns. NPR newsroom guidance states that gender identity should be referenced “only when it is directly relevant to the story,” and that terms like “birth sex, birth gender, normal, biological sex, preferred gender and gender of choice” should be avoided. NPR’s guidance on personal pronouns is that they “are a factual detail we should always get right. These pronouns are among the most conspicuous expressions of a person’s gender identity. We should get it right by asking, like we verify the spelling of names.” For guidance on gender and pronouns that is not specific to journalism, see this NPR article.
Indigenous/Native American/American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian: These terms are all preferred over Indian, a colonial-era misnomer.* American Indian historically has referred to the Indigenous tribes of the contiguous United States, while the newer term Native American comprises them as well as Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian peoples. The Native American Journalists Association says American Indian and Native American can be used interchangeably, though some people may have a preference. According to the National Museum of the American Indian, Native American is falling out of favor, and many Native people prefer American Indian or Indigenous American and, whenever possible, to be identified by their tribe.
Latinx/Latine/Latin@/Latino/Hispanic: All are terms referring to people who trace their roots to Latin America and Spain. Latinx (pronounced la-tee-NEX), Latine (la-TEE-neh) and Latin@ (la-tee-NOW) have come into use in recent decades as gender-neutral terms, though Latinx seems to be getting the most traction in the United States. However, its adoption has been limited and mostly among young and college-educated Americans. Many people described by the term haven’t heard it and a majority prefer the term Hispanic, which is criticized for its connection to Spain and is a language-based identity term that doesn’t include Brazilians. While proponents of Latinx see it as a more inclusive term, some opponents consider it unnatural because Spanish, unlike English, is a heavily gendered language. During a recent discussion at NPR with Martina Castro of Adonde Media, Russell Contreras of Axios and Julieta Martinelli of Latino USA, panelists recommended asking people which term they prefer, while keeping in mind that it’s not a big issue for many in the community.
Person-first language: This is when identity follows the word “person,” as in “person with a disability” or “person experiencing homelessness,” rather than the identity-first formulations of “disabled person” or “homeless person.” Person-first language (PFL) is seen as a way of giving primacy to a person’s humanity over their physical or mental condition. One of its first uses was in the 1980s, when activists rejected being labeled “victims” and called themselves “people with AIDS.”
Another person-related language question is whether a descriptor should be a noun or adjective, and it is sometimes an issue when describing race or religion. The National Association of Black Journalists’ style guide recommends “Black people” instead of “Blacks.” Many Jews, on the other hand, would rather be called “a Jew” than “a Jewish person.”
Clearly, labeling groups is not a simple task, but doing the research will go a long way toward producing good journalism. So will approaching the task with humility and recognizing that descriptors are not always permanent and rarely perfect.
Associated Press (subscription required)
Guides published by journalist groups:
*While some Native Americans will refer to themselves as Indian or NDNs, non-Natives using the term might be seen as offensive.
Special thanks to Marcia Davis, Jason DeRose, Nicole Hernandez, Desiree F. Hicks, Gerry Holmes, Jim Kane, Sam Yellowhorse Kesler, Whitney Maddox, Danny Nett, Sara Richards, Terence Samuel, Hansi Lo Wang, Pam Webster and Kenya Young.
Latinx is a neologism in American English which is used to refer to people of Latin American cultural or ethnic identity in the United States. The gender-neutral ⟨-x⟩ suffix replaces the ⟨-o/-a⟩ ending of Latino and Latina that are typical of grammatical gender in Spanish. Its plural is Latinxs.Where does the term Latino describe people originally from? ›
About Hispanic Origin
OMB defines "Hispanic or Latino" as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.
Hispanic refers to a person with ancestry from a country whose primary language is Spanish. Latino and its variations refer to a person with origins from anywhere in Latin America (Mexico, South and Central America) and the Caribbean.What do the words Hispanic and Latinx mean how are they different? ›
Thus, Hispanic refers more to language, while Latino/Latina refers more to culture. LATINX A gender-neutral term to refer to a Latino/Latina person. The “x” replaces the male and female endings “o” and “a” that are part of Spanish grammar conventions.Why can't we say Latinx? ›
In December 2021, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the oldest Hispanic and Latino civil rights organization in the U.S., and Congressman Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., stated they would no longer use the term "Latinx" because it was offensive to some and failed to prove it had a wide acceptance.Am I Latino or Latinx? ›
Latino refers to those who trace their origin or descent from Latin American countries. Latinx, also refers to those who trace their origin or descent from Latin American countries and is meant to be gender neutral.Who invented the word Latinx? ›
While there's no one group or individual responsible for coining Latinx, its popularity has snowballed in tandem with conversations around gender.Are Italians considered Latin? ›
The term Latin Europe is used in reference to European nations where Italians, French, Portuguese, Romanians and Spaniards live. Their cultures are particularly Roman-derived. They include the use of Romance languages and the traditional predominance of Western Christianity (especially Roman Catholicism).Is Italian Hispanic or Latino? ›
Thus, Latino refers to France, Spain, Italy and other regions where these languages are spoken. Nowadays, though, the definition has come to refer to Latin Americans, although its origins can be traced to the former Roman Empire. “All Hispanics are Latinos, but not all Latinos are Hispanics.Should I say Hispanic or Latinx? ›
Finding the right word to be counted in the Census: Hispanic
People often want to know which term — Hispanic, Latino or Latinx — is the most respectful. But it really depends on the person and context. I'll sometimes say I'm Latino or Hispanic. Or I'll be more specific and say Mexican American.
Think of the term Hispanic tied to the Spanish language. Hispanic excludes Brazilians, who predominantly speak Portuguese. Latino is tied to a geographical region, much of what was colonized by Spain. Latinx is a more progressive term that is gender-neutral.What is the difference between Hispanic and Mexican? ›
Mexican refers to an inhabitant or a native of Mexico which is a Latin American country. Hispanic refers to a person who speaks Spanish, one of Latin American descent and resides in the USA. In Mexico, Spanish is the main language but that doesn't mean that all Mexicans can and do speak the language.What is the difference between Chicano Latino and Hispanic? ›
In the same way that “Hispanic” identifies someone with Spanish roots, “Chicano” refers to Americans of Mexican ancestry. These folks do not identify as Hispanic, which they feel would not account for their Mexican mestizo (a mix of Spanish and Indigenous) heritage.Is Mexico considered Latin America? ›
Latin America is generally understood to consist of the entire continent of South America in addition to Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean whose inhabitants speak a Romance language.What is the difference between a Chicano and a Latino? ›
Summary of Chicano vs Latino:
Chicano is a person, having Mexican parents or grandparents but born in the United States. Latino is a person born in or with ancestors from Latin America. Chicano is a chosen identity of some Mexican Americans in the United States.
The term Latinx emerged in the early 21st century, reportedly first used online in 2004. Latinx is the gender-neutral alternative to Latina or Latino. It is a term used to describe a diverse group of people who have roots in Latin America.How do you even pronounce Latinx? ›
The most common way to pronounce Latinx is the same way you would Spanish-derived Latina or Latino but pronouncing the "x" as the name of the English letter X. So you get something like \luh-TEE-neks\. 'Latinx' is a gender-neutral word for people of Latin American descent.What is code switching in Latinx? ›
Language code-switching is “the use of two or more languages or varieties of the same language in the same utterance or conversation.” Using Spanglish allows Latinos to tap into the American ethos without surrendering their Hispanic identity.Are some Filipinos Hispanic? ›
What about Brazilians, Portuguese and Filipinos? Are they considered Hispanic? People with ancestries in Brazil, Portugal and the Philippines do not fit the federal government's official definition of “Hispanic” because the countries are not Spanish-speaking.What is the origin of the word Latinx? ›
What is the origin of the word Latinx? The term Latinx emerged from the Spanish-speaking queer community to challenge the gender binary, explain Aja and Scharrón-del Río. While the exact origin of the term is unclear, its use can be traced back to online queer community forums.
Cultural diffusion and intermixing among the Amerindian populations with African and the Europeans created the modern Mexican identity which is a mixture of regional indigenous, European, and African cultures that evolved into a national culture during the Spanish period.What does Lulac stand for? ›
On February 17, 1929, a group of Mexican American's founded LULAC (The League of United Latin American Citizens) in Corpus Christi, Texas. LULAC has several goals in mind relating to Mexican American civil rights that included desegregation in schools and the unfair conditions in migrant camps.Where did Chicano come from? ›
The term “Chicano” is based on the indigenous, Nahuatl word “mexica” that was incorporated into Spanish and then used as an identifier in the United States for the descendants of Mexicans starting in the late nineteen fifties and sixties.Why don't Italians still speak Latin? ›
It was more of a gradual thing. As the barbarians slowly overtook the Empire, their languages mixed with the indigenous Latin and what we are left with today are Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian, etc. Every language is changing all the time (even the language you are speaking right now), in baby steps.What language is closest to Latin? ›
Is Latin closer to Italian or Spanish? - Italian is the closest national language to Latin, followed by Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese, and the most divergent being French.Are Italians descendants of Romans? ›
So, do modern Italians come from the Romans? Well, yes, of course: but the Romans were a genetically mixed bunch and so were medieval Italians, who are closer ancestors to us than them. That's why we can say we are, today, as genetically varied and beautiful as varied and beautiful is the land we come from!What are Italians mixed with? ›
The ancestors of Italians are mostly Indo-European speakers (Italic peoples such as Latins, Falisci, Picentes, Umbrians, Samnites, Oscans, Sicels and Adriatic Veneti, as well as Celts, Iapygians and Greeks) and pre-Indo-European speakers (Etruscans, Ligures, Rhaetians and Camunni in mainland Italy, Sicani in Sicily and ...How many countries are considered Hispanic? ›
Hispanic countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.What are people from Spain called? ›
A person who is from Spain or has origins from Spain is Spanish.Is Guatemala Hispanic or Latino? ›
Guatemalans in this statistical profile are people who self-identified as Hispanics of Guatemalan origin; this includes immigrants from Guatemala and those who trace their family ancestry to Guatemala.
Latinx: Most widely used in the U.S., Latinx is a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latino. Only 4% of Latino and Hispanic populations say they identify as Latinx. While the term continues to hold space for younger generations, some have rejected the imposition of a colonizing letter — i.e., the "x."What does a Latina girl mean? ›
plural Latinas. Britannica Dictionary definition of LATINA. [count] : a woman or girl who was born in or lives in South America, Central America, or Mexico or a woman or girl in the U.S. whose family is originally from South America, Central America, or Mexico — compare latino.Is Cuba considered part of Latin America? ›
Thus, it includes Mexico; most of Central and South America; and in the Caribbean, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. Latin America then comprises all of the countries in the Americas that were once part of the Spanish, Portuguese, and French Empires.What is the difference between Chicanos and Mexicans? ›
The term Chicano is normally used to refer to someone born in the United States to Mexican parents or grandparents and is considered a synonym of Mexican-American. A person who was born in Mexico and came to the United States as an adult would refer to him/herself as Mexican, not Chicano.Are Mexicans of Spanish descent? ›
Spanish descendants make up the largest group of Europeans in Mexico and a majority of Mexicans have some degree of Spanish descent. Most of their ancestors arrived during the colonial period but further hundreds of thousands have since then immigrated, especially during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.Is Mexican and Puerto Rican the same thing? ›
Both Mexicans, as well as Puerto Ricans, are called Latinos, and they are Spanish speaking people. However, these are two quite different ethnicities. Puerto Rico was originally inhabited by Taino people while Mexico was inhabited by the Mayan and Aztec people.What is a Pocho? ›
Pocho (feminine: pocha) is slang in Spanish used in Mexico to refer to Mexican Americans and Mexican emigrants. It is often used pejoratively to describe a Mexican expatriate or a person of Mexican ancestry who lacks fluency or the ability to speak in Spanish and knowledge of Mexican culture.What is the difference between Chicano and Pocho? ›
That's where the notion of pocho takes you, Zul says. “It's more inclusive than Chicano,” which is limited to Mexican Americans. “Someone from Guatemala or Honduras can be a pocho, and soon, anyone can be a pocho.” It will happen so naturally, he says, that “no one will even notice.”What does Chicano literally mean? ›
: an American and especially a man or boy of Mexican descent.What country is not considered Latin America? ›
Suriname is not part of Latin America, which probably sounds surprising as it is located within South America.
Mexico shares a large land border with the United States, but is isolated from South America – a region that struggles to integrate into the global system and is essentially a giant island in the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, from a strictly geographic point of view, Mexico lies firmly in North America.Is Jamaica considered Latin America? ›
Because this area is determined by language and colonial influences, countries like Jamaica, Belize, Suriname, and Guyana are not included in Latin America. They are geographically located in the Americas, but they were colonized by countries that do not speak a Romance language: England and the Netherlands.What are Mexicans born in the US called? ›
Chicano, feminine form Chicana, identifier for people of Mexican descent born in the United States. The term came into popular use by Mexican Americans as a symbol of pride during the Chicano Movement of the 1960s.What is the difference between Chicano and Tejano? ›
Under the “Chicano” entry, the editors say they prefer “Latino.” There is no entry for “Tejano.” In the Spanish language, the term Tejano is simply used to identify an individual from Texas, regardless of race or ethnic background.What is the difference between Latinx and Hispanic for kids? ›
Hispanic and Latino are often used interchangeably though they actually mean two different things. Hispanic refers to people who speak Spanish and/or are descended from Spanish-speaking populations, while Latino refers to people who are from or descended from people from Latin America.Who started the term Latinx? ›
It was created by English-speaking U.S. Latinx people for use in English conversation.” Though it's unclear when or how it began, it's mostly tied to the early 2000s, with it reportedly appearing on Google Trends in 2004. There are a few possibilities about how the word came to be.What is the difference between Latino and Latina? ›
Latino: The second most widely used term, Latino represents individuals who live in or descend from the Latin American region. While Latina is used to represent women, official U.S. documentation only uses Latino as an ethnic descriptor.What is not Hispanic or Latinx? ›
White (Not Hispanic or Latino) A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. Black or African American (Not Hispanic or Latino) A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.Why is Latinx so popular? ›
Latinx is popular in academic circles and among some younger Latinos because of its ability to be gender-inclusive, but outside academia, a large majority of Latinos don't use the term to describe themselves. Awareness of the term has grown in recent years, said Pennsylvania State University history professor A.K.Who is responsible for the term Latinx? ›
Because Spanish is a grammatically gendered language, the word "Latinx" has been used as a gender-inclusive form of the words "Latino/a." The term "Latinx" first came about in the early 2000s and was coined by LGBTQ+ members of the Latinx community.
There are plenty of other options for self-identification beside Latino, Latinx, and Hispanic. There's Latin@, popular in the 1990s as a gender-expansive precursor to Latinx. There's Latine, a gender-neutral term championed by detractors of Latinx, primarily for its better adherence to Spanish grammar.Are the Filipinos Hispanic? ›
What about Brazilians, Portuguese and Filipinos? Are they considered Hispanic? People with ancestries in Brazil, Portugal and the Philippines do not fit the federal government's official definition of “Hispanic” because the countries are not Spanish-speaking.Who are considered non Hispanic? ›
Non-Hispanic whites, non-Latino whites, or more simply Whites, are Americans classified by the United States census as "white" and are not of Hispanic ethnicity.Which countries are considered Hispanic? ›
Hispanic countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.Why is it called Latin America? ›
Latin America consists of Mexico, the Caribbean and most of Central and South America. In these countries, residents speak mostly Spanish and Portuguese. These two languages are classified as Romance languages, which are derived from Latin. So hence the name Latin America.What are a few facts about U.S. Latinx population? ›
The U.S. Hispanic population reached 62.5 million in 2021, up from 50.5 million in 2010. The 19% increase in the Hispanic population was faster than the nation's 7% growth rate, but slower than the 23% increase in the Asian population.