The Associated Press issued new guidelines Friday regarding how journalists should handle reporting on race-related issues. These updates will be reflected in the 2019 AP Stylebook that comes out in May — a book many reporters carry with them for reference, as it details the standards and rules by which journalists should abide.
These changes are reflective of the current climate surrounding race and racism. With incidences related to race occurring more frequently, there has been more coverage of these events in the news. The responsibility of reporting these often serious and sensitive incidences fairly and accurately ultimately lies with journalists.
Specifically, one of the most significant updates advises reporters to avoid phrases like “racial” or “racially motivated” when describing incidences that “describe the hatred of a race.”
It’s time for journalists to describe remarks made by people, and people themselves, as racist when they clearly discriminate or are prejudiced against a race, whether by enforcing stereotypes or using offensive language. Far too many times have reporters described racist events as “racial,” and in 2019, this is unacceptable.
Simply put, “racially charged” is a euphemism for racist. It is not up to readers to interpret if something is racist. It is our job as journalists to report the truth, and the truth is that situations described as “racially motivated” are just racist.
In this day and age, standards are changing for the best, and it is important to call things out as racist, especially when issues such as immigration are brought up almost every day by the White House.
Another update to the stylebook urges journalists to eliminate the hyphen when using terms such as Asian American or African American. The term “hyphenated American” has long been used by people to describe themselves and their place in this country. However, the reality is the hyphen can belittle people’s identities, and for far too long we have suggested people who are not white are not American.
People who are not conventionally viewed as American should not have their identities under scrutiny. They are as American as are anyone else living in this country. A hyphen suggests there are varying types of Americans. Being “African” or “Asian” is not a modifier and is a separate identity on its own, as well. We would be doing a great disservice to people if we described their identities as something that can be pushed to the side.
In addition, journalists should in many cases use to the word “black” instead of “African American.” Saying “African American” assumes a person is African and identifies as American, which is certainly not always the case. While many journalists do already employ this term, it’s time for every journalist to step up this standard.
The AP also strongly urged journalists to only use race when it is pertinent to the story. While it is important not to be blind to race — or any identity — when reporting, sometimes inserting a person’s race serves to that person and community’s detriment. This is especially true when it comes to covering crime.
We cannot deny that while black suspects are often identified by their race in a crime story, race is usually ignored if the suspect is white. Using race in this instance reinforces the stereotype that black people are violent and commit crime — which is the same stereotype that contributes to the disproportionately large numbers of black people incarcerated in our prison system.
The AP deserves praise for issuing these new guidelines — although they are slightly overdue. Even though some of these recommendations have been discussed among the journalism community for a while now, it is important they became official.
Now, it is up to journalists to abide by these guidelines and uphold justice for every community when telling the stories that are about, and for, each and every one of them.