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. Introduction

This page describes our approach to writing about ethnicity in the Race Disparity Unit (RDU).

It is not official government guidance.

We first published content on how we write about ethnicity in December 2018. It has remained largely the same since then.

This content is part of our style guide and is used mainly by people working on Ethnicity facts and figures.

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

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.

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’

3. BAME and BME

There is not a consistent approach across government to the terms:

  • BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic)
  • BME (Black and minority ethnic)

In the RDU, we publish data on all ethnic groups on our website. We do not use the terms BAME and BME because they emphasise certain ethnic minority groups (Asian and Black) and exclude others (Mixed, Other and White ethnic minority groups).

In our user research with members of the public in July 2018, no participants knew what the terms meant. This research was about our website, rather than the term BAME and its political and social aspects.

In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities recommended that the government stop using the term BAME. The government is currently considering its response to the Commission's 24 recommendations.

4. 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’

5. 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.