On the Use of The Terms “Black” and “Hispanic”
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Members often approach us to ask about the terminology used to refer to a few of the segments we cover. Should we say Black or African-American? Are people moving to Latinx and away from Hispanic? Read on for our own view on these issues.

Black vs African-American

Over the past few years, we’ve engaged in extensive conversation both internally and externally with members on which term—”Black” or “African American”—is most appropriate when referring to black individuals and African-American individuals. In the past, we’ve defaulted to the adjective “African-American” to describe the segment and also used “African Americans” as shorthand for the segment.

Recently, however, we’ve seen a shift toward the use of “black” as the primary modifier in many organizations and within academic centers and policy organizations (e.g., black Americans, black consumers). For example, Pew Charitable Trust generally uses the term “Black” as do Brookings InstituteUrban InstituteP&G and many other highly respected organizations.  Thus, we now use “black” as a modifier (e.g., black segment, black Americans) and “Black” as shorthand for the segment.

Our decision to use the term “b/Black” also issues from the fact that it is technically more correct as this term can apply to all individuals descended from the African diaspora, including those that do not identify with African or American heritage. Consider for example recent black immigrants from Africa may not identify with American heritage, or recent black immigrants from the Caribbean who may not identify with either African or American heritage.

Additionally, we’ve seen indicators that this term is more associated with the move among many black Americans to re-appropriate “blackness,” an appearance and expression the mainstream historically viewed as negative, in order to invert that dynamic, as well as empower and celebrate.  Look no further than “Black Panther,” “Black Twitter” and the show “Blackish” for examples.

It is important to note, however, that there are still many views on what terminology is the best to use. This short video from PBS’s program on black culture Say It Out Loud does a great job of drawing out all the challenges of settling on a single term to refer to a group that is internally quite diverse. And this article from economist Margaret Simms at the Urban Institute highlights the importance of acknowledging structural racism regardless of the terminology one ultimately decides on.

Thus, we think one of the best approaches companies can take when deciding which terminology they use is to be informed and thoughtful, and to remain open to candid discussion about why they’ve made the choice they make.

Hispanic/Latino-a/LatinX

Over the past few years, there has been increased discussion and controversy over the use of specific terms referring to the Hispanic population. It has long been the Collage standard to use the word “Hispanic,” but we now have data to support your own decisions in this space.

As you can see, the most popular way for Hispanic consumers to self-identify is in direct reference to their heritage country – as Mexican, Cuban, Bolivian, etc. About one third of Hispanic consumers identify in this way, but it is much more popular for the Unacculturated Hispanic segment. The second most popular term to use is “Latino” or “Latina.” These two options together have a slight plurality for Bicultural Hispanic consumers. For the Acculturated Hispanic segment, the most popular term to use is “Hispanic.” If your target Hispanic consumers have a variety of heritage countries, then your best bet will be “Hispanic” when communicating in English and “Latino” or “Latina” for communicating in Spanish.

Despite the popularity of the term “Latinx” in young, progressive, and especially queer Hispanic spaces, only one percent of Hispanic consumers opt for that term. This finding aligns with others’ research on the subject, but we wanted to dig deeper. We asked Hispanic consumers whether they felt positively, negatively, or neutral towards the use of various terms to describe people of their background, and we found that “Latinx” only has a net positive response for younger Hispanic consumers. But this margin is quite narrow, suggesting that the term is highly controversial even for the Millennial and Gen Z Hispanic segments.

And this makes sense for a few key reasons. First, the term “Latinx” is still relatively fresh in the public consciousness, and it takes time for communities to accept new terms, especially if they seem to be more popular outside of the community than inside. Second, notice that Hispanic women are more positive towards the term “Latina” than Hispanic men are towards “Latino.” We see a distinct Latina pride in the modern Hispanic consciousness, and for many “Latinx” threatens to erase that progress.

Finally, and most importantly, “Latinx” is a term of, by, and for individuals who do not feel represented by gendered language. If your consumers explicitly identify as Latinx, or if you yourself feel a connection with the term, use it! But Latinx is not your only option for non-gendered language, and despite its cache on college campuses, it is not currently a preferred or even appreciated term for most Hispanic consumers.

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