Lady C's InfoNapsterizer

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Constructing identity - 1 -- Hispanics

An interesting example today of how, at least theoretically, over time widespread perceptions of an ethnic group can be modified by care for accurate stories and language.

"A PBS mind in an MTV world."

Mrs. B today passes along a request from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists asking us not to use the term "Hispanic" as a physical description:

~Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race. There are Hispanics who are white, black, light tan, dark tan, etc. Our physical features are varied to the extent that the term Hispanic conveys no distinct physical information. Some of us look like baseball player Sammy Sosa. Others look like actor Andy Garcia.

~When police tell the public that the person they seek is Hispanic, it is our job as journalists to ask how they arrived at that conclusion. Asking that question will elicit relevant details about the individual being sought.

~What was the perpetrator's skin tone? Did he have an accent? Did he actually speak Spanish? Those are the details that should be reported, along with sketches, if they are available.

~Providing accurate detailed information is crucial to a physical description. Calling a person Hispanic in this context does nothing to differentiate him from anyone else. As a result, police and the public may end up limiting their search to Hispanics even in cases where the perpetrator turns out to be of another ethnicity.

If you'd like to know more about the NAHJ, go to

Worth giving some thought to the evolution of stero-types of other ethnic groups when the printed press was king. Does "corrective language" have a greater impact today because (1) it's hitting the ears of audiences who are accustomed to seeing on TV and in the movies Hispanic stars who in fact do come in all colors and accents, from all sorts of economic backgrounds, and with very different behavior styles; (2) the "corrective language" is may be accompanied by pictures of the person in question.

If we get better at handling ethnicities, any chance we can someday report about "black" people by each person's distinguishing characteristics and not by simply as "black"? Will we be able someday to report on a suspect being sought by the police by describing distinguishing features rather increasing public danger by avoiding any description at all if the suspect is a "black male"? IIRC, that was the basis for the outrage of a group of parents in Virginia when the person being sought was not identified as black.


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