The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday January 19th

Column: The AP Stylebook finally got with the times

If you’re part of the School of Media and Journalism, I’m sure you must have heard the news: the AP Stylebook updated its guidelines. 

For those who don't spend their days in Carroll Hall, the AP Stylebook is the Bible for journalism majors — and that's not an exaggeration. It’s the first textbook I bought at UNC when I was a naive first-year who thought deleting the Oxford comma was all I needed to know about grammar. It has its own bookmark on my computer, a special spot on my desk. There's a never-ending supply of quirky factoids in there that I love flipping through when I’m bored. (did you know Band-Aid is always capitalized? And that it’s not “okay,” but “OK”?) In a field that values truth and accuracy above all else, the Stylebook is essential to achieving those ideals. 

Since current events and culture are constantly changing, so does the AP Stylebook. For example, “they” became an acceptable singular pronoun to use in the Stylebook in 2017. So, in an exciting and controversial year, there have been, in return, a lot of exciting and controversial changes in this year’s AP Stylebook update. One of which, unfortunately, is the use of the % sign after numbers, instead of spelling out percent.

However, the most significant changes appeared in terms regarding race and ethnicity. The Stylebook this year dropped the hyphen in terms like Asian American and African American. It also emphasized using a source’s preference when describing their ethnicity (for example, a source may prefer Vietnamese American instead of Asian American). The new guidelines also encourage calling racist actions “racist” instead of taking a softer tone and calling them “racially-charged” or “racially-motivated.”

Race has moved to the forefront of the national conversation. From police brutality to immigration to affirmative action court cases, race has become an essential part of these stories, yet most of these articles regarding minorities are written by reporters in predominantly white newsrooms. And that’s why it’s so important to consult the people you’re writing about, at the very least. The Stylebook changes were made after meeting with members of different journalism organizations. 

Words matter. Your language matters. And even hyphens matter. The Daily Tar Heel has its own style, where we avoid hyphenating terms like Pakistani American. To me, the placement of the hyphen places a striking divide between my two identities — sure, I may have been born in America, but what precedes that hyphen will continue to define my nationality, preventing me from ever becoming a full-fledged American. And I will never fully belong to Pakistan, either. The hyphen makes me an “other” in both countries, forcing me and other children of the diaspora to be in a constant state of limbo. 

It reminds me of a quote by the great Maxine Hong Kingston.

“I have been thinking that we ought to leave out the hyphen in ‘Chinese-American,’ because the hyphen gives the word on either side equal weight, as if linking two nouns. …Without the hyphen, ‘Chinese’ is an adjective and ‘American’ a noun; a Chinese American is a type of American.”

And in the state that UNC is in right now, — the vandalized Unsung Founders Memorial, armed white nationalists and all — it’s refreshing to know that those in the higher powers of journalism are realizing what minority writers have always known: racist actions are racist. It’s exhausting constantly having to second-guess yourself and to justify the trauma from events on campus and off. Writers should not have to refrain from calling out racism for the fundamental threat that it is. 

Language is dynamic. So is the way we formulate our sentences, and the impact our words can have on marginalized communities. I’m glad that the AP Stylebook — my favorite reference book, my lifestyle, my major’s holy book — has finally gotten with the times, as long as it took. 

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