Editors of the AP Stylebook – the Bible for journalists – sent an email alert recently about new writing guidelines for referencing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a recent topic of concern in ethnic discrimination.
Last year, out of similar concern, we began to capitalize “Black” in reference to African Americans. The AP has rules for the use of “Native American,” “Italian American,” and “Latino” and others as well.
It makes me sad to think that ethnic groups need their own “guidelines” so that people in other groups don’t offend them. It makes me sad that we need to be reminded in the Stylebook that we should “Consider carefully when deciding whether to identify people by race. Often, it is an irrelevant factor and drawing unnecessary attention to someone’s race or ethnicity can be interpreted as bigotry.”
I think in most cases, one’s race is an irrelevant factor. It has nothing to do with one’s heart, mind or character. So, why can’t we all just be people who are thoughtful and kind to other people?
Perhaps it’s because not all of us are that kind of people. There are lots of folks out there who seek intentionally to divide others in order to create a better “position” for themselves. Race is an easy place to start.
But race isn’t the only factor used to categorize Americans. An article in a recent New York Times newsletter explored COVID-19 vaccine “attitudes” among various groups. The opening premise, based on their surveys, is that Republican voters and racial minorities are the most hesitant to receive the vaccination.
The divisions they used were Black, white and Hispanic, and Democrat and Republican.
The next paragraph digs deeper into a “growing class divide in one area of American life after another.” In their book “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism,” two economists documented the disparities between folks who have a college degree and those who do not.
Some of the descriptors included marriage, faith affiliation, self-reported happiness, chronic pain, obesity and alcoholism. If one has a degree, they say, one has all the good stuff. Don’t have a degree? You’re relegated to doom and gloom and you’re likely to die from a drug overdose.
I recognize that economists and other statisticians need some group distinctions to make their work make sense. But this notion of segmenting carries over to others, and not always for research into our “attitudes” or voting habits.
Some seek to divide our communities by age, geography and financial situation. We are categorized by gender, health condition (mental and physical), abilities and disabilities, social “standing,” firearms ownership, what type of home you have, and many other designations.
Where does it end?
Suppose we were all segregated by the color of our hair or our shoe size or whether we have good teeth? What if all people with pretty feet were celebrated, while tall people were shunned? What if the opposite happened? What if you attended the wrong university – or preschool?
What if dancers were the only citizens allowed to run for office? Or only Native American dancers? Or only Black pastors? What if only people of Irish heritage could go to design school, or become firefighters or mechanics?
Does any of that make sense?
Of course not. And I hope you realize I am being outrageous to make a point: The sum of a person can’t be measured by each category into which that person might fit.
We are a diverse community, of many ages, races, religions, political ideology, levels of education, and so forth. But let us not be divided by those factors.