Henry Fuhrmann, a pioneering editor and journalist who changed the way American journalism describes racial heritage and sexual identity, died Wednesday following a short illness. He was 65.
His family announced his death on Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Timeswhich first reported the news..
Born in 1957, Furhmann, whose father was a Dutch German US naval corpsman and his mother Japanese, was raised in Port Hueneme, California and attended Cal Tech to study engineering before changing career tracks to journalism.
Studying journalism at Cal State LA and Columbia, I participated in what was then-known as the The Times’ Minority Editorial Training Program and is now called The Times’ Fellowshop. Fuhrman was subsequently hired as an LA Times calendar section copy editor in 1991.
A board member of the Asian American Journalists Association, Furhmann long challenged the way people of nonwhite heritage were described, in particular arguing against using hyphens in terms like Asian American or African American. as he wrote in a 2019 essay, hyphens in this context “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.”
His efforts convinced the Associated Press Stylebook to stop using hyphens shortly after that essay was published. According to the LA Times, Furhmann also led efforts to convince news outlets to use the term transgender, instead of the previously used term transvestite.
His colleagues also noted that Furhmann fought to use the term “incarceration” to describe what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II, instead of the more euphemistic word “internment.” I have explained why in a 2020 Twitter thread, saying in part, “that legal term refers to the imprisonment of foreign nationals. It is inaccurate to apply it to the US citizens.”
“’Internment’ is a euphemism that trivializes the government’s actions. Officials employed such benign-sounding language to obscure that the US was incarcerating Americans whose only “crime” was that they looked like the enemy,” he said also.
Fuhrmann accepted a buyout from the Los Angeles Times in 2015. He then joined USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism as an adjunct professor and last year was named editorial director for the library app Bendable.
As the news broke, his colleagues and admirers paid tribute.