Use the Term ‘People of Color’ Carefully, AP Style Says

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In a timely post just a few days into Black History Month, the Associated Press Stylebook posted a reminder about the term ‘people of color.’

There are times when you may write about a diverse group of people. In your writing, you might feel the temptation to use the term people of color to describe them. The Associated Press Stylebook posted a reminder on LinkedIn about the term and why you should use caution in such cases.

I like to remind my readers, in case they’re reading one of these posts for the first time, that AP Style is a style guide that newsrooms across the country use. That way, AP members can more easily share their content with fellow members. It’s like any style guide you learned to use in school. And like those style guides, AP Style has plenty of quirks.

In this case, however, the advice in the post is definitely good.

‘People of color’ is acceptable…sometimes

Specifically, AP Style says people of color is fine in necessary “broad references” to multiple races other than white.

But it immediately adds this important point:

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.

If you’re writing something that affects all minorities or ethnic groups, people may not consider it offensive. But the post goes on to explain that it’s better to specify which people you’re writing about.

It provided these examples: Black Americans, Chinese Americans or members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study on pregnancies in Black women. It found that Black women are at least three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause compared with white women.

AP Style suggests “Black women” over “women of color” since people could interpret that “of color” part as members of multiple races.

It recommends against two other terms and three abbreviations

The post also said you shouldn’t use “person of color” for an individual. If you’re writing about a specific person, it’s better to identify their race and gender, provided either is important to the topic at hand.

But it also recommended against using two other terms: Black, Indigenous and people of color and Black, Asian and minority ethnic. I’ve heard of that first one. I have not encountered the second one before. But it suggests that some see the terms as less inclusive by diminishing the experiences of everyone else.

Likewise, avoid the abbreviations POC, BIPOC and BAME. I imagine most people would be able to figure out what POC stands for. But the others might be a lot less clear.

Even if you don’t write in a newsroom, I think there’s an important lesson to learn here. If you’re writing about a problem affecting a group, define the group specifically. A more broad, generic term won’t ever be as precise or useful as specific language that identifies the subject of your writing.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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