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African Americans are more than just a color

Why a UB student is unhappy with The Spectrum and Associated Press style guidelines


The Spectrum

Every other race gets the satisfaction of being called the politically correct term but African Americans are subjected to being identified as just a color.

We are more than that.

I found myself confused and outraged one night when I read The Spectrum course book. It said that when writing someone’s race, “Use Caucasian, not white; use black, not African-American.”

The Spectrum course book is the mandatory textbook that students enrolled in The Spectrum class, English 394, must purchase. It explains article structure and Associated Press (AP) style.

The last thing I wanted to do was approach our editor in chief in a hostile manner about the situation. I wanted to research this fully and get all the facts before I went to class the next week upset at the wrong person.

According to Norm Goldstein, stylebook editor for the Associated Press, the Associated Press uses the lowercase ‘black’ primarily because it reflects a common language usage found in newspapers and magazines. The Associated Press also claims it uses black instead of African American because that’s what black people want to be identified as.

John Neville, editorial page editor for The Buffalo News, told me that “black is acceptable for a person of the black race. African-American is acceptable for an American black person of African descent. Use Negro only in names of organizations or in quotations. We use white rather than Caucasian.”

After looking deeper into the situation, I realized that being identified as ‘black’ wasn’t the only issue. I saw that black was not capitalized as it was for Asian or Hispanic. I believe that is another sign of disrespect toward African Americans.

Although race isn’t necessary in most cases, when it is mentioned people should be identified correctly and respectfully.

I would like to be called African American and when being identified as Black, it should always be capitalized out of respect – if we are indeed saying that Black and African American are interchangeable.

I can understand why the Associated Press might not think that this is a problem or why most publications follow its guidelines without questioning. Because Black is a common way to identify people of the African American race, I can see why journalists would think it is acceptable to do the same.

Regardless of the AP rules, The Spectrum should make changes to properly acknowledge the diverse group of students it represents.

I immediately took to social media and searched the Internet to see if there was some rule I was missing before I got angry. I posted a picture of the page in my course book on my Instagram that night. It didn’t take long before my peers were giving their opinions. My followers on Twitter were also outraged and felt that they shouldn’t support The Spectrum.

I was relieved and proud to see all the comments and retweets from fellow UB students. But as a reporter for The Spectrum, the last thing I wanted was to tell everyone to stop reading the newspaper. I feel that The Spectrum has a duty to make sure students feel well represented by its publication.

There is no excuse for students to be told how to identify someone and The Spectrum has the ability and power to change the way it teaches the course and identifies African Americans. This newspaper is supposed to be a well-rounded publication, but it would no longer be “well-rounded” if African American students decided not to work for The Spectrum or read the paper.

I was angry at The Spectrum, our editor in chief and the Associated Press for the disrespect I thought they had for my culture and my people. And even though other students understand my frustration, I don’t want the African American students at UB to be angry with The Spectrum.

But for the sake of the African American population at UB, the course book guidelines should be changed.

I want to make it clear that students’ opinions matter and their voices should be heard. When quoted and acknowledged in the paper, we deserve to be identified with respect.

Jashonda Williams is a staff writer and can be reached at jashonda@buffalo.edu


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