The NYT usually, as far as I can tell, uses the term "black" instead of "African-American." The latter sounds a bit self-conscious and overly PC these days, with the former seeming to win over among blacks themselves. But I found this excerpt from an article about the riveting (not) discussion of which private elite school the Obamas will send their kids to, where the Times goes totally schizoid:
Washington is typically a socially segregated city, but the schools the Obamas are considering appeal to the elite across color lines. (Mr. Holder and Ms. Rice, the two Obama advisers, are African-American.)
Sidwell administrators say its student body is 13 percent black. Georgetown Day and Maret officials say their schools are 20 percent African-American. (Officials at the Laboratory Schools in Chicago say the population there is about 10 percent black.)
And for many black parents and students, the buzz has been thrilling. Dylan McAfee, an African-American girl in second grade at Georgetown Day, met Mrs. Obama last Monday and has been star-struck ever since. “I touched her hand and she smelled like cherries,” she said.
The pattern we have here is African-American/black/African-American/black/black/African-American. I know what the idea is – to avoid word mirrors by not repeating the same word so many times – but it's just a little jarring to see two words repeated so often that are usually mutually exclusive in a given text.