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Race and Ethnicity

Race and ethnicity are not the same. Race is a social construct that has historically been used to classify human beings according to physical or biological characteristics. Ethnicity is something a person acquires or ascribes to and refers to a shared culture, such as language, practices, and beliefs.

Always ask yourself if including any descriptive language about race or ethnicity is necessary for the content. If it is, always ask your subject what language they prefer and verify that they are comfortable with the information being made public.

We include general guidance on style. For information beyond the scope of this guide, refer to the resources at the end of the section.

U.S. Census Bureau Race Categories

The U.S. Census Bureau categories are limited and mostly outdated. In some cases, we list the federal definition for your information, but always with clarifications. If race is relevant to the story, always ask your subject how they self-identify. Identity is more personal and complicated than one box on a form by the government, and some of these terms may not be preferred by your subject.

  • American Indian or Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment. Although listed as a race by the Census Bureau, tribal membership is a political designation, not a racial one. Tribal members are citizens of sovereign nations under the U.S. Constitution.

    Using American Indian vs. Native American vs. Native People vs. Indigenous People (Pulled language from UCLA’s page)

    • Generally, Indigenous refers to people with pre-existing sovereignty who were living together as a community before contact with settler populations—most often Europeans. Always capitalize. Indigenous is the most inclusive term as there are Indigenous peoples on every continent throughout the world who are fighting to remain culturally intact on their land.
    • Indigenous Peoples refers to a group of Indigenous people with a shared national identity, such as Navajo/Diné in North America, or Sami in Sweden.
    • Native American or American Indian are terms used to refer to people living within what is now the U.S. prior to European contact, according to the U.S. Census. American Indian has a specific legal context on a federal level. Indigenous people living in the U.S. have differing opinions about whether using these terms is offensive. Always ask your subject how they self-identify.

    There are eight sovereign nations associated with the state of Utah:

    It’s best to identify your subject by their specific tribes, nations, or communities in the languages that they prefer, as “An enrolled member of ____.” Always ask their preference, and its spelling.

    Headlines should also refer to tribes by their proper names, not a catch-all phrase like “Utah Native American Tribe."

  • Asian, Asian American: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of East Asia, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent. Never use a hyphen to form the noun Asian American.

    Using only “Asian” to describe a person’s race is vague, as it includes about 60% of the world’s population. Traditionally, East Asia consists of China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, and occasionally, the Philippines. South Asia traditionally consists of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Southeast Asia includes Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

    Using “Asian” to signal “Asian American” props up the perpetual foreigner stereotype, a harmful experience where Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are made to feel like outsiders no matter where they were born or how long they’ve lived here. This stereotype has contributed to the rise of anti-Asian sentiment and violence.

    If relevant to the story, it may be better to include the individual’s specific background—always ask how they prefer to be identified. For example, Japanese American, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, etc.

  • Black or African American: A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.

    African American and Black are not synonymous. Black racial identity encompasses a multitude of cultures and ethnicities, for example from the Caribbean or Latin America. If you are including someone's race in the content you're creating, ask the person how they prefer to be identified, for example Afro-Latino, or Haitian American.

  • Federal policy defines Hispanic/Latino/a/Latinx as an ethnicity, as people who identify as such can be of any race.

    While it is common to see Hispanic and Latinx/Latino/a used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. Hispanic generally refers to people with origins in Spanish-speaking countries. Latinx/Latino/a generally refer to people with origins in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, there is disagreement about these definitions and what is or is not offensive. Always ask the subject how they identify.

    Latinx (pronounced la-teen-ex) is increasingly becoming a common term. Unlike Latino or Latina, which are the masculine and feminine forms of the word, Latinx is a gender-neutral term sometimes used in lieu of Latino or Latina for people of Latin American heritage.

    Always ask the individual/group how they prefer to be identified. The individual may prefer, for example, a gender-inclusive and neutral term like Latinx or Latin@, or a more term like Afro-Latino (a person may identify as both African or African American and Latino/a).

  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, Tonga, and other Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian Islands. Only describe someone as “Hawaiian” when they identify as a Native Hawaiian. A non-native person who lives in Hawaii is not Hawaiian.

  • White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe.

    The formal federal racial definition of “White” includes a person having origins in any of the original people of Middle East or North Africa. However, many people of Middle Eastern and North African ancestry identify as People of Color and feel cultural erasure by being classified as White.

    For years, communities have lobbied the U.S. government to create a separate category to represent their heritage on the federal level. As a result of these efforts, the University of California system created a Southwestern Asian/North African group for their application in 2013. The Census Bureau is considering a similar change.


People/Person of Color, POC

A concept related to race and ethnicity that is being used with increasing frequency. It refers to any person who is not White. Especially in the U.S. Spell it out on the first use, capitalizing “People” and “Color,” then use POC (pronounced pee-oh-see).

This is the preferred term when referring to groups of people made up of multiple races and ethnicities.


BIPOC is an emerging acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. BIPOC can be said with the full definition or be pronounced as “BYE-pock.” Spell out the phrase on first use, then use BIPOC. Some feel that BIPOC is more appropriate than People of Color because it acknowledges the varying levels of injustice experienced by different groups. In these instances, be sure to ask the individual/group how they prefer to be identified. However, if you are talking about a specific racial or ethnic group, name that specific group rather than generalizing it to all People of Color. For example, if you’re talking about Black people, don’t use “People of Color.”


AAPI stands for Asian American Pacific Islanders, a phrase that describes Americans who have origins in any of the original peoples of East Asia, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent or the Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, Tonga, and other Polynesian, Micronesian, and Melanesian Islands. Use with caution—the intent is to create a cohesive group to talk about issues that impact members of the two communities. However, some people argue the two terms should be kept separate because of the erasure of Pacific Islander culture—Asian Americans have a larger representation in the U.S. than Pacific Islanders do, and may overshadow the distinct needs of the Pacific Islander community. For example, Native Hawaiian’s efforts to regain their ancestral lands back.

Biracial, multiracial

The terms biracial and multiracial are acceptable, when clearly relevant, to describe people with more than one racial heritage, per AP Style. Avoid mixed-race, which can carry negative connotations, unless the subject prefers the term. Be sure to ask your subject how they prefer to be identified. Be as specific as possible by describing a person’s heritage, if relevant to the story. Note that multiracial can encompass people of any combination of races.


In Utah and beyond, many White families adopt children who are People of Color. The word transracial describes this experience.

Writing Guidelines

  • Consider carefully whether it is necessary to identify a person by race or ethnicity. Often, it is an irrelevant factor and can be interpreted as bigotry.
  • If you do identify a person by race or ethnicity, focus your writing not on that but on the person—their achievement, their leadership, their scholarship, their research, etc.
  • Ensure that headlines, images, captions, and graphics are fair and responsible in their depiction of People of Color and coverage of issues.
  • If you are including a person’s race or ethnicity in the content you’re creating, ask the person how they prefer to be identified.
  • When using color to appropriately describe a race, capitalize the words—for example when using Black, White, and Brown.
  • Capitalize Indigenous.
  • Do not hyphenate African American, Asian American, Native American, etc. Do use a hyphen if your subject describes themselves as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean, etc.
  • Identify White individuals if people of other races/ethnicities are identified.
  • Many People of Color are told that their names are too complicated or too difficult to pronounce. Use the name that the subject asks you to use and do not ask to use a nickname instead. Also, be sure to include any accents or diacritics in the person’s name rather than removing them to better align with English characters.
    • Example: Use señora instead of senora, and Nguyễn instead of Nguyen.

Terms to Avoid

  • Avoid appropriating cultural terminology. For example, don’t say “pow wow” to mean “hold a meeting,” or use “spirit animal” to talk about an animal you like, or “tribe” to describe a community of people with similar interests.
  • Use Black, African American or what the subject self-identifies as. Avoid outdated terms such as colored, etc.
  • Use Asian American or the term that your subjects identify as. Avoid outdated terms, such as oriental.
  • Avoid using “color blind” or “don’t see color” to describe that you or your organization treats everyone the same. This idea dismisses a serious social justice issue—society treats people differently based on their race or ethnicity.
  • Avoid using ‘minorities” to refer to people belonging to a racial or ethnic group that differs from the majority of a population. It’s better to use People of Color.

University of Utah Resources

American Indian Resource Center  is a “home-away-from-home” for American Indian and Alaskan Native (AI/NA) students at the U that works to increase student success through advocacy, culturally sensitive academic student-centered programming, cultural events, outreach and social events that enhance academic, cultural and personal growth, and well-being.

Black Cultural Center uses a pan-African lens to holistically enrich, support, and advocate for faculty, staff, and students through Black-centered research, culturally affirming educational initiatives, and service. The Black Cultural Center will enact this mission through intentional programmatic learning outcomes, envisioned to build a sense of belonging and community at the U, with the goal of increasing the recruitment and retention of Black faculty, staff, and students. Through research, education, and service this center will promote and explore race/racism, social justice, cross disciplines, and community connections, centering on the Black voice, leadership, and the larger African diasporic community.

Center for Equity and Student Belonging is a vibrant student center that works to support students academically, personally, socially, and culturally. The center is committed to providing programming that assists students in navigating cultural, economic, social, and institutional barriers to achieve academic excellence and develop socially responsible individuals who advocate and dialogue for equity and social justice.

Office of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Title IX (OEO/AA) is dedicated to providing a fair and equitable environment for all to pursue their academic and professional endeavors and to equally access university programs.

University of Utah SACNAS is an all-inclusive community dedicated to supporting diversity and inclusion in STEM fields and fostering the success of scientists from under-represented backgrounds. Our goal is to help these members attain advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM. 

Other Resources

Asian American Journalist Association: Covering Asia and Asian Americans
Conscious Style Guide: Race/ethnicity/nationality
Terminology Style Guide via
National Association of Black Journalists Style Guide
National Association of Hispanic Journalists Media Competency Guide
Native American Journalist Association Reporting Guides
UCLA Equity, Native American and Indigenous Peoples FAQ