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

Ethnicity facts and figures generally follows the ethnicity guidelines in the ONS style guide. We have developed additional ways to write about ethnicity, ethnic minorities and specific ethnic groups.

Ethnicity and race

We refer to ethnicity and not race. This is because:

  • surveys usually ask for your ethnicity and not your 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 Irish Travellers.

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 testing.

BAME, BME and people of colour

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

  • the UK’s ethnic minorities include White minorities
  • they highlight some groups and not others – for example, Black and Asian people are included but not people of a Mixed ethnicity
  • in user research, the acronyms BAME and BME were not well understood by our audience

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 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, don’t say ‘Mixed people’ or ‘Mixed race people’. Say ‘people from a Mixed ethnic background’, ‘people with a Mixed ethnicity’ or ‘people from the Mixed ethnic group’.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller ethnic groups

We differentiate between Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller communities.

‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ is one of the 18 standardised ethnic groups. However data is sometimes collected for a Gypsy/Roma group or White Gypsy/Traveller group, for example.

We don’t use slashes (/) in commentary as this can imply these terms are the same. Instead we refer to:

  • ‘the Gypsy and Roma ethnic group’ or ‘Gypsy and Roma people’
  • ‘the Gypsy and Traveller ethnic group’ or ‘Gypsy and 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

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 must take a capital 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 in commentary 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

Generally, ONS orders categories in order of size. However, in research users were sometimes offended when White was placed first in commentary, charts and tables. They were also confused by the way ethnic categories found in different contexts were presented in varying orders.

Ethnic groups are therefore ordered alphabetically in charts and tables, with ‘Other’, and occasionally ‘Unknown’, as a final category.

Ethnicities and nationalities

These ethnic groups are also nationalities:

  • Bangladeshi
  • Chinese
  • Indian
  • Pakistani

Where 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’

4. Help us stay up to date

Language usage and acceptability change over time. We want to make sure our content reflects those changes. Contact us at ethnicity@cabinetoffice.gov.uk with your thoughts and research.