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.

1. Ethnic minorities and ethnic groups

We have specific ways that we write about ethnicity on this website.

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

Ethnic minorities

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.

BAME, BME and people of colour

We do not use the terms BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic or BME (Black and minority ethnic) because:

  • they include some groups and not others – for example, the UK’s ethnic minorities include White minorities and people with a Mixed ethnic background
  • the acronyms BAME and BME were not well understood in user research

Similarly, we do not use ‘people of colour’ as it does not include White minorities.

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’.

Phrasing

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

‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ is one of the 18 standardised ethnic groups. We differentiate between Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller communities 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’

For example:

29% of White Gypsy and Roma pupils met the expected standard in reading, compared with 31% of White Irish Traveller pupils

2. Ordering and style

Capitalisation

We capitalise all ethnic groups. For example, Asian, Black, Mixed, White, Gypsy, Irish Traveller, and Other.

This is because:

  • ethnic groups such as Asian and Indian start with a capital letter so this maintains a consistent approach for all groups
  • it makes our content easier to read if we’re comparing ‘the Other ethnic group’ with other ethnic groups

For this reason we write, for example, ‘people from the Asian Other ethnic group’. This is despite the fact the category is usually ‘Any other Asian background’.

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:

  • Bangladeshi
  • Chinese
  • Indian
  • Pakistani

If there’s 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’

3. Help us stay up to date

We want to make sure our content reflects changes in language usage and acceptability over time.

Contact us at ethnicity@cabinetoffice.gov.uk with your feedback.