The Asian American Journalists Association is heartened that The New York Times has dropped the hyphen in “Asian American,” and we look forward to more newsrooms following suit.
We also commend the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) for their efforts to un-hyphenate “Asian American” in media publications. The New York Times’ change in style follows a letter (“Words Matter: Asian American No Hyphen,” see an excerpt here) initiated and prepared by Shirley Hune, former AAAS president, and sent to Times’ leadership from the current and past presidents of AAAS.
“We are especially grateful for the work of our longtime member and current National Board member, Henry Fuhrmann, who advised AAAS’s effort after they reached out to AAJA for support in April 2021, and to AAJA’s Catalyst alumna Karen Yin, the founder of Conscious Style Guide,” says Naomi Tacuyan Underwood, the Executive Director of AAJA.
Fuhrmann’s January 2018 piece “Drop the Hyphen in Asian American” for the Conscious Style Guide has been credited by the Associated Press Style Guide and BuzzFeed Style Guide as impetus for removal of the hyphen in their own guides. In an internal memo about the change, The New York Times references the Associated Press Style Guide’s 2019 removal of the hyphen.
As Fuhrmann wrote in 2018:
…[T]o many of us in the trade and, more to the point, many of the people we write about, those hyphens serve to divide even as they are meant to connect. Their use in racial and ethnic identifiers can connote an otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not full citizens or fully American: part American, sure, but also something not American. “Hyphenated Americans” is one derogatory result of such usage.
A longtime leader of AAJA, Fuhrmann also serves on the board of ACES: The Society for Editing. Fuhrmann worked at the Los Angeles Times from 1990 to 2015 and for seven years served as standards editor and led the copy desks.
In AAJA’s guide “Covering Asia and Asian Americans,” which is currently undergoing updates, we advocate for an unhyphenated usage of Asian American:
Form the noun without the hyphen, as in “French Canadian.” In compound phrases, where the term is used as an adjective, a hyphen may be used, as in “French-Canadian folklore.” So, too, with Japanese American and Pakistani American. A few Asian Americans see a pejorative connotation to “Asian-American” with a hyphen, in part because of Theodore Roosevelt’s denunciation early in the 20th century of “hyphenated Americans” who do not join the American mainstream.