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AP Stylebook tells journalists it's OK to use the word "racist"

The Associated Press Stylebook revealed new guidelines for journalists when using the word "racist" — an indication of the rise in major news stories involving race. The non-profit news agency, whose stylebook is used by newsrooms across the country, said journalists should call an incident racist if it is such, rather than tiptoeing around the word.

"In general, avoid using racist or any other label as a noun for a person; it's far harder to match the complexity of a person to a definition or label than it is a statement or action. Instead, be specific in describing the person's words or actions," the AP said in the update, which was announced Friday at the annual conference for ACES: The Society for Editing.

"Again, discuss with senior managers, colleagues and others from diverse backgrounds when the description may be appropriate for a person."

The news agency said the terms "racism" and "racist" can be used in broad references or in quotations to describe "the hatred of a race, or assertion of the superiority of one race over others." It also advises journalists to avoid using "racially charged" or similar terms as euphemisms for racist or racism when the latter terms are "truly applicable."

One example cited by the AP: "Mississippi has a history of racist lynchings, not a history of racially motivated lynchings."

The AP also advised journalists not to use "blacks" or "whites" as a singular noun, and the terms "black people" and "white people" are preferred. The plural nouns "blacks" and "whites" are accepted when needed for reasons of space.