Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Race vs. nationality vs. ethnicity

The Wichita Eagle, which gave me my first copy editing gig, has a blog by the newsroom management. The senior editor for nights, Nick Jungman, recently addressed a reader complaint about a headline over a brief:
Mexican sentenced in
accident that killed 3
Background: A Mexican citizen was transporting 19 illegal immigrants in his truck, which overturned. Three people died, and he was eventually sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.

A reader complained that using Mexican in the headline sounded prejudiced or racist. Nick defended its use:
I think I understand how that would be the case if the person in question were a Mexican-American and we'd shortened that to "Mexican" (which we would never intentionally do). But in this case, the person is a citizen of Mexico — a fact that's particularly relevant in a story about illegal immigration. ... If the man had been from Guatemala or Colombia, I'm sure we would have said "Guatemalan" or "Colombian," and I'm not sure that we'd have heard from anyone about it.
In a subsequent post, the editor of the paper, Sherry Chisenhall, disagreed. She said it was a matter of ethnicity:
Any time you refer to a person only by their ethnicity, as a noun, out of context (which is what headlines often have to do, by their nature of brevity) - the result often sounds crass to a reader's ear.

I made the same argument years ago at another newspaper about referring to "a black" - a usage that most newspapers (including The Eagle) have stopped.

Though ethnicity is relevant to the overall story today, I can understand why it would sound prejudiced to a reader when isolated in a headline. Nick made the point to me that Mexican is a nationality, not a race. But I think many readers consider it a deeper cultural or ethnic description.
I can see making an argument that in some cases, Mexican is a skunked term and therefore should be avoided — in headlines without context. I'm not convinced, but I can see the point.

I can't figure out how Mexican and black are analogous in this situation, though, or Mexican and ethnicity.

Any thoughts?


At 12:05 AM, October 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, people from Mexico are Mexicans! The libs among us cannot continue to pick apart the language by removing actual meaning from words simply because somebody somewhere claims offense. The hords of diversity are so annoying to so many of us. We speak out in vain, however, and always at career risk ...

At 2:20 PM, October 04, 2006, Blogger Karl Weber said...

Oh, please, anonymous. You "speak out in vain, and always at career risk?" I don't see any indication that the two editors in the story are at "career risk." They got a complaint from a reader and politely debated it amongst themselves. Conservatives who hate "political correctness" make it sound as though they are being terrorized when in fact all they are subject to is mild criticism. Grow up and learn to take it, will you?

At 2:26 PM, October 04, 2006, Anonymous Frolic said...

Most people who consider Mexican an ethnicity are often ill-informed (they also usually modify the word with "those damn."). I think the editor was inadvertently embracing the stereotype that all Hispanics are Mexicans.

Hispanic or Latino=ethnicity
Race=a really complicated question in Latin American (and in Spanish "raza" means cultural identity)

At 5:21 PM, October 04, 2006, Blogger Bill said...

I know of at least one paper that bans "Mexican." I once worked for a paper that banned "Jew." The executive editor explained that he considered it an epithet -- "You know, like 'dirty Jew'?"


At 12:17 PM, October 16, 2006, Blogger surlyheckler said...


At 12:20 PM, October 16, 2006, Blogger surlyheckler said...

My managing editor gets queasy at the sight of "Mexican," even in constructions like "the U.S.-Mexican border." Naturally, she is unable to articulate her objection.

I asked her if she likes Mexico food and she changed the subject.

At 10:42 AM, October 18, 2006, Anonymous Denise Covert said...

I agree with both Anonymous and Karl Weber. Karl's right in that it was mild criticism, but really, we CAN'T just change the meaning of the word to suit oversensitive readers.

As someone whose family originated in Mexico but is of Spanish (as in Spain) origin, I totally agree that "Mexican" is a nationality, no more an ethnic indicator than "American" is. Of course, I don't know how ethnic (especially Hispanic) sensibilities are in Wichita as opposed to, say, Dallas (Madame Blog Host, can you comment?) but I'm assuming this was a wire story of little local significance.

If the person is a citizen of Mexico, they're a Mexican. There is no other word that can be used.

At 8:23 PM, November 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous complains as if words have a meaning that never changes: "Uh, people from Mexico are Mexicans!" Well words often have multiple meanings. They're shaped by popular usage. For example Mexicans, Canadians, Peruvians and Cubans are American but look at how we use it.

We "Americans" have used the Mexican as a slur. Sometimes we are polite enough to check who's in the room first and then maybe whisper it. We speak of "those" people in hushed terms, thinking the maid (or the bus boy or the gardener or the nanny or the child in the classroom) doesn't know we're talking about them.

Language is complicated and touchy because we make it that way. So this Lib, speaking from personal experience, says: speak up and be heard so everyone will know what you are ... a bigot!

Loud Lib

At 1:06 AM, November 13, 2007, Blogger will said...

the way i see it we are all american. from canada all the way down to brazil. i dont see what the big deal is about.

im american by place of birth but mexican by ethnicity. iv been called mexican many times, and they're correct im mexican in more ways than one. same goes when im called american.

the power of these words are only powerful because society gives them power. a douche is a female hygiene product. when my parents grew up that word didnt have much meaning but today in young adults you might as well be calling somone a jerk to the 10th degree if you call them a douche bag.

At 3:59 PM, November 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Denise, whgat if they are Asian-Mexican the same way there are African-Americans.
American Mexican? =)

At 12:25 AM, April 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting - "Mexican sentenced in accident that killed 3".
And the headline needs to include the "nationality" because...?
We then go on to read about how a "Mexican" citizen was transporting illegal immigrants in his trunk. So, yes - he was a citizen from Mexico - so what about the people that died - wouldn't their "nationality" be relevant in this case? Still no citizenship reference of the dead.
If the reasoning here is that the title was just disclosing the perp's citizenship - come on...

At 3:03 PM, September 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People from Mexico call themselves Chicanos......

At 3:55 PM, October 25, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking as a chicano who knows his heritage well. Mexican is a race...white people raped our people (natives of mexico...native like the natives of america) there are menonitas,"mexicans" because they came from europe and were born there, but they are not mexican. I don't hate white people just those who enslaved my people,tortured,murdered,those who commited genocide and that is the spanish...white people. Because a TRUE Mexican may look white does not mean he/she is white. Like the natives of america have some white mixture they do not consider themselves white. They are natives to the continent...like the mexicanos/chicanos. Before you start saying mexican isn't a race study that history from a mexicano or chicano not some white person. White people are denying the pain and suffering our people have gone through...why? because they know they would have to give us chicanos rights like the natives of america....they don't want to give us control because we are the majority minority. So before you go and think mexican is a nationality go do your research from a mexicano or chicano...not the lies white people are spreading. You deny us our very heritage by saying we are not natives. you deny us our past because you go and make up your own version of the truth. you deny us our culture everytime you say we aren't from this continent. adios! peace! PAZ! go learn the truth before you start talking.

At 12:23 PM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comment. And that goes the same for the rest of 'Central America' and 'South America.'
Finally someone said something that makes sense.
Thank you!!!

At 2:47 PM, December 04, 2008, Blogger commonsense said...

I don't believe there is a such thing as "race". Race was created by society...which society has turned into a negative aspect...yet again. Race means: a category of people with inherited physical characteristics that distinguish people from others. But if you live in Africa or America or anywhere else...the closer you are to the equator the darker your pigment is. I believe in ethinicty and nationality, so when someone says they are a mexican citizen what would you think that meant? That he was a citizen of Mexico. Just like in the papers in Isreal "An american citizen was one that was injured in the explosion" should we be offended by that? And for people to be angry about these little things and not carrying about the serious aspect of things...like what about the families of the ones who lost their lives, what can we do to help them...where concentrating more on oh, he said mexican...all I can say is people grow up! Being angry at the people who act prejudice makes you just a prejudice.

At 5:01 PM, December 21, 2009, Blogger Vikki said...

I think a lot of people have a point. While it is true that Mexican is a nationality and it shouldn't be offensive to describe someone as a Mexican citizen; I also agree with the person who said that words are shaped by their usage and "Mexican" is more often than not used as a slur!

Moreover, why was the perp's nationality relevant to the story, but the victims' nationality wasn't? One of the posters had a great point when he/she said that.

I don't believe that Hispanic is an ethnicity, because there are way too many cultural differences between Spanish speaking countries. Unfortunately most US citizens don't care to find out but there are too many differences to call Spanish speakers an ethnicity.

Argentina and Uruguay, for example, are racially the Whitest countries in the Western hemisphere. Over 90% of people are White in these countries. Then Frolic and others argue that Spanish speakers are all multiracial. No. Some Spanish speakers are multiracial, Puerto Ricans are typically multiracial but if you have only been around them, don't try to discuss the race of Argentines (lots of whom are German) or Bolivians (who are usually pure Amerindian).

Unless you English speaking folks agree to be the same ethnicity as Jamaicans (due to a common language)?

At 4:34 PM, September 02, 2010, Anonymous SOUTHSIDER said...

on Sept 17 2008 someone wrote-"people from Mexico call themselves Chicano"i dont know where you get your info from,but they have it backwards.people from Mexico call ~Mexican/Americans~Chicanos.I know because i've lived and heard it all my life.When i'm asked what am i,which is very rare because i look like an old gang member,in which i'm not,just have an imitating look i guess.I'm Mexican/American.On 10/25/08,some Chicano who knows his heritage well writes "Mexican is a race" and that the white people RAPED our people.Thats news to me.I know there was a war fought because some people didnt want to live under MEXICAN RULE AND LAW.There were many Mexican people that fought on the American side.During war and myhem,there is alot of crime and wrong doing.Thats the evil in man.Does that Chicano know what crimes and myhem my uncles Emiliano and Pancho were commiting during their reign???I doubt it.If i sound like i'm one that has lost his ~ORGULLO~your 100000times wrong.I just had to comment on these bird brains.BUENO aqui me despido,thank you for the opportunity,"MEXICAN TO THE BONE~SOMOS MAS CHINGON"SIEKA!!!


Post a Comment

<< Home