nabj style guide, stylebook, black, African American, style
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NABJ Style Guide A
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abolition: Major American reform movement that sought to end slavery in America using a wide range of tactics and organizations. While abolitionists are commonly portrayed as white people deeply concerned about the plight of enslaved blacks, and epitomized by William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe, many were African American, including Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Free blacks in the North also were stalwart in their dedication to the cause and provided financial support.

activist, advocate: Activist is someone who actively advocates for political or social change. Often used to describe black leaders engaged in activism. Others who also push for causes, however, often are called advocates. Advocate is more neutral and a better choice for news copy, unless a subject describes himself or herself as an activist.

affirmative action: Program, practice or process aimed at correcting enduring effects of discrimination by allowing race and gender to be considered as factors in hiring and job advancement and college admissions of women and minorities. Affirmative action is sometimes confused with quota (a prescribed number that must be met). Affirmative action aims for an exceeded target, while a quota sets a minimum number. (See also quota.)

African, African American, Black: Hyphenate when using African American as an adjective. Not all Black people are African Americans (if they were born outside of the United States). Let a subjects preference determine which term to use. In a story in which race is relevant and there is no stated preference for an individual or individuals, use black because it is an accurate description of race. Be as specific as possible in honoring preferences, as in Haitian American, Jamaican American or (for a non-U.S. citizen living in the United States) Jamaican living in America. Do not use race in a police description unless the report is highly detailed and gives more than just the persons skin color. In news copy, aim to use Black as an adjective, not a noun. Also, when describing a group, use Black people instead of just "Blacks." In headlines, Blacks, however, is acceptable. (New) NABJ also recommends that whenever a color is used to appropriately describe race then it should be capitalized, such as Black community, Brown community, White community.

Africa: The second largest continent in area and population after Asia. It is in the eastern hemisphere, south of the Mediterranean and adjoining Asia on the northeast. The area is 11,677,240 square miles (30,244,050 square kilometers).

  • sub-Saharan Africa (or Black Africa) - Region south of the Sahara Desert and used to describe those countries not part of North Africa, the region north of the Sahara. Avoid using Black Africa because it is considered to be politically incorrect or insensitive to some.
  • North Africa - Predominantly Arab or Berber in ethnicity or culture and is mostly associated with the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The sub-Saharan Africa is predominantly black in ethnicity or culture and with few exceptions, such as Mauritius and South Africa, is one of the poorest regions in the world.

    The exact dividing line between the two regions is not clear. However, according to one classification, sub-Saharan Africa includes 48 nation's , 42 of which are on the African mainland. Also, four island nation's in the southwest Indian Ocean (Madagascar, The Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles) and two in the Atlantic (Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe) are considered part of Africa. Accordingly, the countries of Africa are:

    Central Africa

    Central African Republic
    Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Republic of the Congo

    Eastern Africa


    Northern Africa

    Western Sahara

    Southern Africa
    South Africa

    Western Africa
    Burkina Faso
    Cape Verde
    Cte d'Ivoire
    Equatorial Guinea
    The Gambia
    So Tom and Prncipe
    Sierra Leone

    African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME): Independent Methodist organization dedicated to black self-improvement and Pan-Africanist ideals. In 1794, Richard Allen, the first AME bishop, established Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. About 2,000 black Methodists facing persistent discrimination met at Bethel to discuss legal independence from the Methodist church's main body. Voting to organize under the name, African Methodist Episcopal Church, the group successfully sued for independence before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. AME is acceptable on second reference and in headlines. (See also Methodist Episcopal Church.)

    African Methodist Episcopal Zion: Black members within the John Street Church in New York City and within American Methodism in general were denied ordination, forced to sit in segregated pews and limited in their access to the Methodist itinerant clergy and the Communion Table. Frustrated by this treatment, two black John Street members, Peter Williams and William Miller, in 1796 founded the African Chapel. The chapel was later renamed Zion Church and its members became known as Zionites. In 1801, with the help of the Rev. John McClaskey a white minister who had opposed the independence efforts of Richard Allens African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Philadelphia the Zion Church was incorporated as the African Methodist Episcopal Church of the City of New York. James Varick was its first pastor, later becoming the first black African Methodist Episcopal Zion bishop. (See also Methodist Episcopal Church.)

    African National Congress (ANC): Leading South African political party and mostly identified with the struggle against apartheid. Founded in 1912 by a group of middle-class, college-educated black South Africans to fight racist laws by building solidarity among the country's diverse societies. (See apartheid.) Nelson Mandela joined the ANC in 1941, became its leader in 1992 and the country's first black president in 1994. The other major South African political parties are the National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party. ANC is acceptable on second reference and in headlines.

    Afro-American: Archaic term to describe a black person. Popular in 1960s and 70s, the name was overtaken by black and later African American in the 80s and 90s. Do not use. (See African, African American, black.)

    Afrocentric, Afrocentrism: The study of Africa, its history and culture from a non-European perspective. The term Afrocentrism was first coined in 1976 by Molefi Kete Asante and can be defined as rediscovering African and African-American achievement, restoring Africa's rightful place in history, and establishing its importance on par with European history, culture and accomplishment.

    AIDS: Acronym for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It is a disease that weakens the body's immune system and is spread primarily through sexual contact, contaminated needles, infected blood or blood products and from pregnant women to offspring. It is the most advanced stage of HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. AIDS was first reported in America in 1981, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affects seven times more blacks and three times more Hispanics than whites. It is a leading killer in the black community. AIDS is acceptable in all references but should be briefly defined as an immune deficiency disease in news copy.

    alien: A term for a foreigner or an immigrant that often conveys overtones of menace or strangeness. Avoid its use in copy or headlines. The preferred term for those who enter a country in violation of the law is illegal immigrants or undocumented immigrants.

    animal references: Avoid comparing people, in particular athletes, with animals even if they have a name such as Tiger or Fox.

    apartheid: Racial segregation specifically, a policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination enforced by the white minority government against non-white residents in South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

    articulate: As an adjective, the word is viewed by some as a subjective term that implies it is an exceptional occurrence for people of color to speak confidently, knowledgeably, clearly, eloquently and/or reasonably on a topic. It is better to report what a person said rather than simply describe him or her as such.

    aunt, uncle: When not referring to a family relationship, the terms may be insensitive or offensive depending on its context. Historically, whites used the names often for any black person in servitude. (See Aunt Jemima and Uncle Tom.) Today, the names are used in the black community as terms of endearment or respect for non-family members or close family friends. Traditionally in the South, children are expected to address an adult by an honorific, Miss, Maam, Aunt, Mister, Uncle or Sir.

    Aunt Jemima: Born a slave in 1834, Nancy Green became the advertising worlds first living trademark as Aunt Jemima. Working as a domestic in Chicago, Green was contracted at age 59 to portray a happy cook to promote a pancake recipe by Pearl Milling Co. She died in 1923, but her image as the pancake queen lives on today. Some view the icon as a painful reminder of slavery, and her character as the apron-clad cook with a bandanna tied on her head as a negative stereotype of black women.

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