KU Style Guide

race-related coverage

Reporting and writing about issues involving race calls for thoughtful consideration, precise language, and an openness to discussion 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.

Be aware that some words and phrases that seem innocuous to one group can carry negative connotations, even be seen as slurs, to another. As will all news coverage, be sensitive to yr varied audiences and their different perceptions of language and the larger world.

race: Consider carefully when deciding whether to identify people by race. Often, it is an irrelevant factor and drawing unnecessary attention to someone’s race or ethnicity can be interpreted as bigotry. There are, however, occasions when race is pertinent:

- In stories that involve significant groundbreaking or historic events, such as being elected U.S. president, being named to the U.S. Supreme Court or other notable occurrences. Barack Obama was the first black U.S. president. Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Jeremy Lin is the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.

- In cases where suspects or missing persons are being sought, and the descriptions provided are detailed and not solely racial. Police are looking for a man described as white, about 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, with black hair and blue eyes, wearing a plaid shirt and a Seattle Mariners baseball cap. Such descriptions apply for all races. The racial reference should be removed when the individual is apprehended or found.

- When reporting a demonstration, disturbance or other conflict involving race (including verbal conflicts), issues like civil rights.

In other situations when race is an issue, use news judgment. Include racial or ethnic details only when they are clearly relevant and that relevance is explicit in the story.

Do not use a derogatory term except in rare circumstances – when it is crucial to the story of the understanding of a news event. Flag the contents in an editor’s note.

racist, racism: Racism is a set of attitudes, beliefs, and actions asserting racial differences in character, intelligence, etc., and asserting the superiority of one race over another, or racial discrimination or feelings of hatred or bigotry toward people of another race.

In general, avoid using racist or any other label as a noun for a person. Instead, be specific in describing the person’s words or actions. Again, discuss with senior managers, colleagues and others from diverse backgrounds when the description may be appropriate for a person.

Avoid racially charged, racially motivated or racially tinged, euphemisms which convey little meaning.

Always provide specifics to describe the words or actions in question. But do not use a derogatory term except in rare circumstances when it is crucial to the story of the understanding of a news event.

Caucasian: Avoid as a synonym for white, unless in a quotation.

people of color: The term 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. Be aware, however, that many people of various races object to the term for various reasons, including that it lumps together into one monolithic group anyone who isn't white. In some cases, other wording may be appropriate. Examples: people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds; diverse groups; various heritages; difference cultures.

African American: No hyphen. Acceptable for an American black person of African descent. The terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Americans of Caribbean heritage, for example generally refer to themselves as Caribbean American. Follow a person’s preference.

Black (adj.): Use the capitalized term as an adjective in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies, Black colleges. African American is acceptable for those in the U.S. Use Negro or colored only in names of organizations or in rare quotations when essential.

Black(s), white(s) (n.): Do not use either term as a singular or plural noun. Instead, use phrasing such as Black people, white people, Black teachers, white students . Black and white are acceptable as adjectives when relevant.

boy, girl: Generally acceptable to describe males or females younger than 18. While it is always inaccurate to call people under 18 men or women and people 18 and older boys or girls, be aware of nuances and unintentional implications. Referring to Black males of any age and in any context as boys, for instance, can be perceived as demeaning and call to mind historical language used by some to address Black men. Be specific about ages if possible, or refer to Black youths, child, teen or similar.

Juneteenth: June 19, the traditional commemoration date of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation making it a U.S. federal holiday. The holiday also has been called Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day. President Abraham Lincoln first issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves free in Confederate territory on Sept. 22, 1862, but the news took time to travel. June 19, 1865, is the date when word of the proclamation reached African Americans in Texas..

Asian American: No hyphen. Acceptable for an American of Asian descent. When possible, refer to a person’s country of origin or follow the person’s preference. For example: Filipino American or Indian American.

Do not use Orient, Oriental when referring to East Asian nations and their peoples. Asian is the acceptable term for an inhabitant of those regions.

Latino, Latina: Latino is often the preferred noun or adjective for a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America. 

Hispanic: A person from – or whose ancestors were from – a Spanish-speaking land or culture. Latino or Latina are sometimes preferred. Follow the person’s preference. Use a more specific identification when possible such as Cuban, Puerto Rican or Mexican American.

Native Americans, American Indians: Both are acceptable terms in general references for those in the U.S. when referring to two or more people of different tribal affiliations. The term Natives is acceptable on second reference.

For individuals, use the name of the tribe; if that information is not immediately available, try to obtain it. He is a Navajo commissioner. She is a member of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. He is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Some tribes and tribal nations use member; others use citizen. If in doubt, use citizen.

Indian is used to describe the peoples and cultures of the South Asian nation of India. Do not use the term as a shorthand for American Indians.

tribe: Refers to 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. Capitalize the word tribe when part of a formal name of sovereign political entities, or communities sharing a common ancestry, culture or language. Identify tribes by the political identity specified by the tribe, nation or community: the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation. The term ethnic group is preferred when referring to ethnicity or ethnic violence.