Writing about ethnicity
How we write about ethnicity, including words and phrases we use and avoid, and how we describe ethnic minorities and different ethnic groups.
This page describes the government’s preferred style for writing about ethnicity.
It was last updated in December 2021.
2. Ethnic minorities and ethnic groups
Ethnicity and race
We refer to ethnicity and not race. This is because:
- surveys usually ask people for their ethnicity and not their race
- using consistent terms helps people to understand our data
We use ‘ethnic minorities’ to refer to all ethnic groups except the white British group. Ethnic minorities include white minorities, such as Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller groups.
For comparisons with the white group as a whole, we use ‘all other ethnic groups combined’ or ‘ethnic minorities (excluding white minorities)’. We also refer to ‘white’ and ‘other than white’ if space is limited.
We do not use ‘non-white’ because defining groups in relation to the white majority was not well received in user research.
Broad and specific ethnic groups
We avoid using ‘broad’ and ‘specific’ when referring to ethnic groups. For example, the ‘broad Asian group’ or the ‘specific Pakistani group’. This is because these terms aren’t widely used outside of data collection.
If we need to, we refer to either ‘aggregated’ ethnic groups or ethnic groups ‘as a whole’. For example, ‘the black ethnic group as a whole’.
In research, ‘people from a black Caribbean background’, ‘the black ethnic group’ and ‘black people’ were all acceptable phrases. ‘Blacks’ was not.
Similarly ‘people from a white British background’, ‘the white ethnic group’ and ‘white people’ are all acceptable.
However, we don’t say ‘mixed people’ or ‘mixed race people’. We usually say ‘people with a mixed ethnic background’ or ‘people from the mixed ethnic group’.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller ethnic groups
The term ‘Gypsy, Roma and Traveller’ has been used to describe a range of ethnic groups with nomadic ways of life.
In the UK, it is common in data collections to differentiate between:
- Gypsies (including English Gypsies, Scottish Gypsies or Travellers, Welsh Gypsies and other Romany people)
- Irish Travellers (who have specific Irish roots)
- Roma, understood to be more recent migrants from Central and Eastern Europe
The term ‘traveller’ can also encompass groups that travel. This includes, but is not limited to, ‘new travellers’, ‘boaters’, ‘bargees’ and ‘showpeople’.
We differentiate between Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller groups if data is collected for them separately.
We don’t use slashes (/) in commentary as this can imply these terms are the same. Instead we refer to:
- ‘the white Gypsy and Roma ethnic group’ or ‘white Gypsy and Roma people’
- ‘the white Gypsy and Irish Traveller ethnic group’ or ‘white Gypsy and Irish Traveller people’
3. BAME and BME
We do not use the terms BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) and BME (black and minority ethnic) because they emphasise certain ethnic minority groups (Asian and black) and exclude others (mixed, other and white ethnic minority groups). The terms can also mask disparities between different ethnic groups and create misleading interpretations of data.
In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities recommended that the government stop using the term BAME.
One of the recommendations in the final report on COVID-19 disparities, published in December 2021, was to refer to ethnic minority groups individually, rather than as a single group.
This was supported by research commissioned by the Race Disparity Unit (RDU), which found that people from ethnic minorities were 3 times more likely to agree than disagree that the term ‘BAME’ was unhelpful.
4. Ordering and style
The government’s preferred style is not to capitalise ethnic groups, (such as ‘black’ or ‘white’) unless that group’s name includes a geographic place (for example, ’Asian’, ‘Indian’ or ‘black Caribbean’).
From December 2021, all RDU publications use this style.
Order of ethnic categories
Ethnic groups are ordered alphabetically in charts and tables, with ‘other’, and occasionally ‘unknown’, as a final category.
In user research, some people were offended when white was placed first in a list of ethnic groups, while others did not like inconsistent ordering.
Ethnicities and nationalities
These ethnic groups are also nationalities:
If there is a risk of users mistaking ethnicities for nationalities, we avoid ambiguity by writing:
- ‘people from the Indian ethnic group’, not ‘Indian people’
- ‘pupils from the Chinese ethnic group’, not ‘Chinese pupils’
The government’s preferred style is to write about ethnic or ethnic minority ‘groups’ and people from ethnic minority ‘backgrounds’. We do not use the term ethnic minority ‘communities’.
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