This is the second article from the inclusive language series, and is centred around race and ethnicity. Here’s the one on gender in case you missed it.

As I’ve said, language is evolving and developing every day and so, before introducing new terms to your vocabulary, be sure to check their meaning and relevance. There are also a lot of abbreviations used regarding race and ethnicity, so always be sure of their meaning before using them.

The terms race and ethnicity can mean slightly different things to each individual and are widely accepted as social constructs – particularly race. As with gender, individuals can have preferences as to how they would describe themselves and, in turn, how they would like to be described.

In very basic terms, race is based on attributes and traits that groups of people can have and the labelling that forms from these, for example, skin colour. In this way, race on its own can be problematic and contributes to widespread racism. Ethnicity is based more on identity and common experiences. The language you speak, or the traditions you follow, including religious traditions, constitutes your ethnicity.

For further reading, check out this US article. There is a great comparison chart showing the differences between race and ethnicity.

Race and ethnicity are interesting areas to cover when looking at inclusive language, and are perhaps the ones with most familiarity. Rightly so, racism and inclusivity are big topics but there is no need to be intimidated by them. It’s easy to feel out of depth and overcompensate when it comes to race and ethnicity; i.e. going out of your way to mention someone’s race or applying a blanket term such as BAME. Ultimately, in any communication, there is no need to address race unless the subject matter calls for it and, where it does, the emphasis is on using the right terms.

Tips to take away

  • Do some research and make sense of commonly used abbreviations, such as BAME. While they are eye-catching and important, they can often be misused
  • Regularly update your vocabulary, don’t be afraid to evolve and always check terminology before publishing. Own your mistakes also, if you use an out-of-date term, own it and learn from it. The same goes for addressing your peers. As long as it is handled politely, holding those around us accountable for their mistakes can be a great learning tool
  • Wherever possible, allow people to describe and define their own race and ethnicity
  • Finally, welcome discussion in a respectful and open way with those around you. Be respectful of people’s opinions and take on board their descriptors of their race or ethnicity

I’m interested in hearing what you’ve done to ensure your copy is both accessible and inclusive. Let me know what actions you’ve taken.

Remember: even the smallest of changes and considerations can make a huge difference to a person’s day.