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Helpful Resources: Race-Related Style Guidelines

Posted Oct 22, 2020 11:43 AM
As we write about racial issues on social media, websites, grant applications, newsletters, emails, press releases, and other media, it’s imperative we use precise language at all times to ensure fairness, accuracy, sensitivity, and cultural competency.

The Associated Press recently released revised guidelines on writing about race-related matters. Many nonprofits use the AP Stylebook as a basis for all written material. Even if your organization doesn’t currently follow a particular style guide (The Chicago Manual of Style is another popular one), we highly recommend you take the AP’s guidelines seriously.

You don’t have to adopt every single guideline. In fact, you should engage in a discussion with your staff, board, and volunteers about what terms your organization will choose to use (and not use). Encourage continuing dialogue since preferred terms are always changing.

A few noteworthy highlights:

  • Carefully consider whether or not it’s imperative to identify a person’s race. Unless race is central to the story, drawing unnecessary attention to a person’s racial identity can be interpreted as bigotry.
  • “Black” and “white.” On June 19, in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the celebration of Juneteenth, the AP decided to capitalize the “B” in Black because it conveys “an essential and shared sense of history, identity, and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa.” AP recommends that the word “white” remains lowercase.
  • “Indigenous” is also capitalized. This term should be capitalized when used to refer to an original inhabitant of a place.
  • “People of color” and “racial minority” are preferred. Use either term when describing people of races other than white in the United States. The AP discourages reliance on the acronyms POC and BIPOC unless it’s used in a direct quote. When possible be specific when talking about a single group such as Asian Americans or members of the Seminole Indian Tribe. This is tricky because even within different ethnic communities there aren’t universally agreed-upon terms.
  • “Racially charged,” “racially motivated,” and “racially tinged” should be avoided due to vagueness. When race is central to an issue, it’s better to use specific words such as xenophobic, bigoted, biased, nativist, or racially divisive.
  • Use either Black Lives Matter or #BlackLivesMatter. Both work, whether you’re referring to the social movement or an officially affiliated organization. BLM is acceptable on second reference.