Race and ethnicity

The Canadian Press Stylebook recommends coverage that specifically deals with matters of race, must reflect and showcase the ethnic diversity of the country in a natural, organic way that is free of bias, whether it be explicit or unconscious.

Best Practices

  • Always consult. All social groups have different ways of naming or referring to themselves. It is best to check-in with an individual or group to learn how they would like to be specifically addressed.
  • Avoid generalizations and labels. Identify a person by race, colour, national origin or immigration status only when it is truly pertinent. It is appropriate to report that a woman facing deportation is Polish. Similarly, the victim of hate mail may be referred to as a Jew. A full description, including but not limited to colour, may be used if a person wanted by police is at large.
  • Avoid writing broadly about diverse communities. Avoid the dangers inherent in painting a large group of people with the same brush. Guard against the phenomenon of “othering” — fostering the implicit sense that a person or group is extrinsically different or doesn't belong.
    • Example: Not: Iranian Canadian community in mourning after plane crash But: Canadians with loved ones in Iran grieve crash victims 
  • Be specific and avoid generalizations.When certain descriptors are relevant, be as specific as possible to avoid inaccurate or generalized statements.
    • Example: use “Dominicans” rather than “Hispanics.”
  • Avoid assumptions. It should not be taken for granted that a Muslim ceremony needs explanation while a Roman Catholic mass does not. Never assume your readers share your background. Watch the labels — calling some fruit “exotic” might make sense to someone raised in rural Saskatchewan but would not ring true to many foreign-born readers in Toronto who grew up eating it for breakfast.
  • Don’t use adjectives as nouns. Using adjectives as nouns is not only grammatically incorrect, it is often demeaning to the people you are describing. For example, use “Black people,” not “Blacks."
  • Avoid terms that imply inferiority or superiority. Replace terms that evaluate or might imply inferiority/superiority with non-judgmental language.
    • Example: use “low socioeconomic status” rather than “low class,” or “marginalized population” rather than “minority.” The word “minority” is often used to describe groups of people who are not part of the majority. This term is being phased out because it may imply inferiority and because minorities often are not in the numerical minority.
  • Be conscious of context and connotations. Some terms carry connotations within a community that might not be apparent outside of it. The word “thug,” once defined as a “violent criminal” or “menace,” is heard by many as a racial slur. 
  • Race and ethnicity; these terms are pertinent when they motivate an incident or help explain the emotions of those in confrontation. References to race or ethnic background are relevant in reports of racial controversy, immigration difficulties, language discussions and so on.
  • Racist commentary: When a story revolves around racist language, it can be hard to find the right balance between the public's right to know and the risk of causing further offence. Keeping the details of a slur from a reader can impair understanding. Consider creative ways of communicating the details without using the words in question.
    • Example: Throughout the march, the white supremacists chanted epithets laced with offensive anti-Black vitriol, including liberal use of the N-word. 
    • Sometimes, leaving out the word is impossible. Always consult supervisors before using racially derogatory terms, and only in a direct quotation and when essential to the story. Using asterisks in place of all but the first and last letters is also an option.

Reflect and showcase the ethnic diversity of the University

Contact us

If you have any further questions about the race and ethnicity style, please contact University Communications by email at urcomms@uwaterloo.ca.