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 inBackground: 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.
accident that killed 3
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 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 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't figure out how Mexican and black are analogous in this situation, though, or Mexican and ethnicity.