Magazine | April 16, 2012, Issue



FROM:  Editorial Policy Committee

RE:  New racial classifications as of March 2012

To All Producers, Writers, and On-Air Talent:

As you know, the recent events in Florida have caused all of us to rethink our editorial policy on racial classifications. As we struggled to frame our reporting of this terrible national tragedy, we were struck by our inability to properly describe the assailant, George Zimmerman — who we were all excited to imagine was a white Jewish man in Florida, but who turned out to be a grave disappointment.

A more complete racial classification of George Zimmerman would have to address his Hispanic mother, thus unnecessarily complicating things and confusing our viewers. How to thread that particular needle is the question.

It’s clear to all of us, of course, that when an unarmed African American is gunned down by a vigilante, that vigilante is by definition a white man. And in Florida a Jewish white man. George Zimmerman, despite his Jewish-ish sounding surname, is at least one-half Hispanic. And according to the Human Resources department at CNN, that’s Hispanic enough to be called, simply, “Hispanic.” And counted in the “Expanding New Horizons in Diversity” program at our parent corporation, Time Warner, as a “Diverse Hire — Latino/Latina Category.”

But when a half-Hispanic man shoots an African-American man, it’s unlikely to turn into a national event, with marches and protests and moments of national soul-searching.

See the problem?

What the Editorial Policy Committee has decided, in the wake of this classification tragedy, is to create a new system of racial classification, something we’re calling Race Plus™.

An old-style description of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, would probably go something like this: “George Zimmerman, a Hispanic resident of the housing development, is now in custody.” The RacePlus™ description would now read: “George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic resident of the housing development, is now in custody.”

We feel that RacePlus™ lets our reporters and newsgatherers tell a more complete story.

As America becomes more racially mixed — which is a good thing — it also becomes more challenging to craft compelling and racially divisive news narratives — and that’s a bad thing. With RacePlus™, we feel we’re not just solving a problem for now, but setting the stage for what we all hope is a future filled with local tragedies that can be transformed into racially charged national stories.

RacePlus™ gets us there.

As we all work to implement the new rules, let’s remember a few key facts. RacePlus™ is for clarifying the “whiteness” of assailants ONLY. As a rule of thumb, whoever has the gun needs a RacePlus™ classification. Thus, please use RacePlus™ whenever describing any of the following, and ONLY when their more usual classification would fall into an undesirable category:

Investment banker, NRA member, Republican-primary voter, tea-party activist, religious leader, Klansman, Boy Scout leader, football coach, corporate executive, or police officer.

And please use the new RacePlus™ guidelines ONLY when clarifying the underlying whiteness of the person or group. Often, as you know, it is the “whiteness” that our viewers and online readers care most deeply about. Remember this simple motto when trying to describe any of the above categories: “If there’s White there, make it Bright there.”

Please DO NOT use RacePlus™ in any of the following conditions:

When the person or group is Asian or half-Asian. (Asians are not a protected category. See memo “CNN Policy: Asian-Americans Not Really Minorities.”) Thus, we would never permit “white Asian” to describe a half-Asian person. Nor would we permit “black Asian” to describe, for instance, professional golf’s Tiger Woods.

Also, please note that RacePlus™ is to be used ONLY in cases of crime and/or violence reportage. It is NOT to clarify the racial makeup of an individual. As an example, President Barack Obama is described as “African American,” despite his white mother. He is NOT to be described as a “white African American.” Please note the difference here between the correct CNN usage for describing the president and for describing white Hispanic George Zimmerman.

If any of this is not clear, please refer to the FAQ page on our website, or ask the Editorial Policy Committee representative in your department.

Many thanks to all of you for your sensitivity and commitment to RacePlus™, and to the ongoing CNN initiative “All Race/All Racism” — together, we’re making a big difference!

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