“Black” or “African American”? Latino or Latinx? People of Color? What’s in a name?

Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

Martha Jones, a professor of African American history at Johns Hopkins University, reminds us that “the language of race … has always been a moving target.”  What she means by this is that the categories that are used in science, politics, or the law to describe race or ethnicity are constantly changing.  In this brief, we use both the terms “Black” and “African American.” We also use the terms “Latino,” “Latinx,” and “Hispanic.”  We try to include language in the charts and graphs that reflects the language used when the data was collected.  But this gets complicated!  For example, some of our graphs feature data from two different historical periods which means that different terms would have been used when the information was collected.  What terms should researchers and students use to refer to different racial or ethnic groups?  Who should decide?

Interested in reading more?  Check out Martha Jones’ commentary at CNN or Terry Blas’ comic on the terms “Latino” and “Latinx” at Vox or Gene Demby’s story about “why we have so many terms for ‘people of color’” at NPR.