To ask someone from an ethnic minority......

(107 Posts)
SuedeEffectPochette Wed 24-Apr-13 17:08:32

......what is pc these days? My inlaws persistently say things like "do you remember that coloured girl......?" and this makes me cringe and I have to tell them that it isn't on to use this phrase any more. I know in America saying "black" is also offensive. So please can someone tell me what is the least offensive way to refer to someone's race (if indeed it is necessary to do that - but sometimes it is)......
And what about people from the Indian subcontinent - will I be causing offence to describe you as "Indian" as you may be Pakistani etc...... I am just ensuring that I don't accidentally cause offence and turn into my in laws!

EldritchCleavage Wed 24-Apr-13 17:21:46

Black is not offensive, it is standard terminology in the US and here for someone of black African ethnic origin, though African-American, African-Caribbean and African-British is usually preferred.

Generally, I can tell when people have no ill will so don't get hung up on terminology. My white English grandmother (born in early C20) never stopped saying 'coloured' and we never thought anything of it, given her generation had been taught to say that to be polite. It would rankle if someone of say, 25 did it though-suggests ignorance or uncaring. Still wouldn't jump down their throats though, I would just politely ask to be called something else.

Indian subcontinent I would probably say Asian, or British Asian (people of a minority ethnic group born here don't always like being treated as foreigners, so it is nice to acknowledge we are English/Scottish/British too).

The most important thing is to relax about it and handle it as what it is, a simple fact of life. Please don't treat us as though we are all being chippy or over-sensitive about it. There is a very real history of prejudice (continuing) and we have had to fight for such respect as we currently get. And please don't treat minority ethnicity as something embarrassing or unfortunate to be glossed over, either. When in doubt, ask the person concerned how they would like to be addressed or have a particular issue handled.

Asian/south Asian
Mixed race
Are all in common usage, if that helps
Coloured and half caste are offensive and not in common use.

butterflyexperience Wed 24-Apr-13 17:35:38

Haha there was a thread in chat a few days ago on the same subject

FrozenBrikSchittHaus Wed 24-Apr-13 17:41:16

My parents are from India, I was born here, British Asian please. I am both. Asian on it's own or Indian is borderline offensive because it implies I'm a foreigner.

Although, if you can avoid it, no labels is even better.

GreenEggsAndNichts Wed 24-Apr-13 17:42:42

Black isn't offensive in the US.

It was, however, offensive in Australia when I was there 10 years ago. I'm not sure if this is still the case, though. I have no idea how the topic came up, I think I was noting the complete lack of black people in the town we were in (I grew up in a very racially mixed city). Everyone's faces were this shock and thankfully someone clued me in later that it wasn't an acceptable term there. blush

As eldritch says, I think people usually understand when there is negative intent there. Hopefully. Or all my co-workers in Australia just remember me as the casual racist. smile

HeyYoniYoni Wed 24-Apr-13 17:43:15

Can I hijack and ask a question too. This is going to make me sound provincial and ignorant, but I'm not honestly

So, if you're taking to to one from a different ethnicity how go you ask where they / their ancestors originate from?

Obvs if you say 'where are you from?' They'll probably answer London, or cambridge, or sutton hoo or whatever, but I'd quite like to know if their family history is Indian / Bangladeshi and so on

I'd do the same with anyone with an Intetesting accent too, it's not a colour thing, I'm just nosy and interested in things like that. Is that wrong? Or rude?

Purple2012 Wed 24-Apr-13 17:44:06

The thing is different people from the same race don't all want to be referred to in the same way.

At work when taking a crime report from someone I have to ask them to self define their ethnicity. I have a list for people to choose from. That list doesn't include coloured. One guy not so long ago self defined as coloured. When I rang the crime through and got to the ethnicity question I replied coloured. I was told they couldnt put that down because it's not on the list. They then suggested black. I said no as the guy i was dealing with was adamant that he defined himself as coloured. They said they had to put black but it's not a self definition if that wasn't what he said!

HeyYoniYoni Wed 24-Apr-13 17:44:15

Bollocks, SOMEone, not one.

Surya Wed 24-Apr-13 17:50:21

HeyYoniYoni, in answer to your question, someone once asked me, 'If you don't mind me asking, what is your ethnic origin?', which I thought was much less irritating and far politer than the whole 'Where are you from? No, where are you really from?". I personally don't mind being asked, but then, I didn't grow up in this country, and so haven't spent a lifetime having to satisfy people's curiosity about my 'ethnic origins': I imagine that for some people, it might be a constant reminder that they don't truly belong, having to constantly answer that sort of question.

WaitingForMe Wed 24-Apr-13 17:53:08

It's a minefield. One area where I know my friend and elder stepbrother (British Asian) get a bit annoyed is on religion as they get asked if they eat pork. You wouldn't ask a white person as standard so why ask an Asian person? (My step-family are Catholic and my friend is Hindu)

Purple2012 Wed 24-Apr-13 17:55:58

If I was to ask someone english, whatever their colour/race 'where are you from' I would mean what town/city/part of the country.

If I wanted to know their ethnicity I would ask them what their ethnic background was. I wouldn't just randomly ask people though. My knowledge of geography is shocking though. One of my black friends is from the west indies. We often have chats about his culture/country so I can become more knowledgable.

CrotchlessJudgyPants Wed 24-Apr-13 17:56:31


I'd agree with Surya. I am white British but grew up abroad and have a 'funny accent'. It is annoying when people refer to you as 'that American lady' or say 'So where in America are you from?' all cleverly.

It is also annoying when I say I'm British and people say 'Really?' and do this hmm.

Less annoying is 'I'm really curious, where's your accent from?' or 'I can't place where you're from, do you mind my asking?'

That said, it is wearying when it is an early topic of conversation, especially when it's a professional interaction like at the GP's when I'm in pain and don't really want to talk about my friggin accent.

CrotchlessJudgyPants Wed 24-Apr-13 17:57:42

Waiting surely you can just say, Is there anything you don't eat?

As many white (and non-white!) people are veggie, say.

CocacolaMum Wed 24-Apr-13 17:59:31

I don't think its a minefield tbh and any of my friends who are religious and don't consume pork (whether they be white, black, Asian, Indian, Muslim, Jewish or whatever) would much rather be asked than an assumption be made and then have to be corrected later.

I think people can just be a bit too sensitive on other peoples behalf on these kinds of things.

As a rule I don't refer to people by the colour of their skin anyway but I would use Black rather than coloured - that said I had a customer refer to their fiancé as coloured so fuck knows. I think words are words - its the context that's important.

PrincessFiorimonde Wed 24-Apr-13 18:01:03

I know in America saying "black" is also offensive. I've never heard that before. Does anyone else think that's the case?

enormouse Wed 24-Apr-13 18:05:26

I agree with the British Asian comment as made by a previous poster as I am Indian but was born in England. I can't comment on the rest but I do fill in forms for my DS and describe him as mixed race.

I do think coloured is a bit dated tbh, personally. But that's just my opinion.

manicinsomniac Wed 24-Apr-13 18:08:45

Technically my children are mixed race but they don't take after me (white) very much.

I usually refer to them as Hispanic or Latino, I don't really mind.

SuedeEffectPochette Wed 24-Apr-13 18:10:43

Thanks everyone. Of course I don't always need or want to refer to someone by a label such as "black" or "British Asian" - rather to kids it's just "your friend Joe" not "your black friend Joe"! However, my elder DD was asking about why people have different skin colour and as part of my explanation I needed to say "black" and wanted to make sure that I am teaching her the correct non-offensive way to describe someone, when it is necessary to do so by race. Thanks all! I was fairly sure that "black" was not Ok in America but maybe someone will correct me on that!

Runoutofideas Wed 24-Apr-13 18:13:32

The food thing can be a bit of a minefield. My dd (8) had her British Asian good friend round for tea. I said to her mum "Is there anything she doesn't eat?", planning to do spag bol as standard tea, to be told "No she eats anything - oh but meat has to be halal so veggie might be easiest" as a bit of an afterthought. If I hadn't remembered to ask, I think she would have assumed that I knew what her daughter could eat, which I didn't!

HeyYoniYoni Wed 24-Apr-13 18:22:19

Thanks for your answers, hopefully it'll help me not sound a knob, it's not something I ask as a matter of course, just when you've known someone a while and would like to know more about them.

You see I get asked quite often about my accent, I moved around a lot as a child, lived a long time in wales and its a bit of a mix. I don't mind at all but perhaps it's that that's given me an interest in a persons 'roots'. I'm also big into history and am interested in etymology, and names especially, I love a good, unusual surname

FeckOffCup Wed 24-Apr-13 18:33:40

I've been wondering about this issue too recently after being told you can't call it a blackboard anymore its now a chalkboard. I was in sainsburys the other day and my 2 year old decided to bellow baa baa black sheep while waiting in the queue and it led to a conversation with the checkout lady about what kids are and aren't allowed to say in school these days. Are there really any black people who get offended by a nursery rhyme or the word blackboard or is that just a PC-gone-mad myth?

beatricequimby Wed 24-Apr-13 19:02:39

The blackboard and baa-baa black sheep ones are urban myths perpetuated by Daily Mail etc. There is no problem with the use of the word 'black' in either because it is not being used in a derogatory or offensive way.

People have (rightly in my view) questioned some other uses of the word black because in our culture it is so often seen as a negative eg 'black sheep of the family', 'black mark against your name', 'black-listed.' These are still perfectly acceptable terms - there is nothing offensive about them per se - what has been questioned is the effect, particularly on black children growing up - of always hearing the word black being given negative connotations.

Fanjounchained Wed 24-Apr-13 19:18:15

This thread has me a bit concerned to be honest. I'm 38 and live in Glasgow...was brought up to say "coloured" rather than "black" as we were always led to believe that "black" would cause offence. Just asked DH what word he would use and he too said "coloured" and was very surprised when I told him the responses here.

Are there any other Scottish Mners on this thread ? Is this a Scottish thing ? I think I've used the word "coloured" on other threads on I'm worried everyone is thinking I'm a racist when I'm probably just a bit ignorant confused.

Bunbaker Wed 24-Apr-13 19:29:17

"Although, if you can avoid it, no labels is even better."

I don't agree. It is just a descriptive term. My workplace is pretty cosmopolitan. When we are talking about people at work someone might say the French guy in IT, or the Greek sales manager, or the Indian lady in marketing, or the woman with blond hair in sales. They would describe me as the tall one with glasses and the Russian name.

Incidentally, I grew up in the 60s and 70s and the term black was considered offensive. We used to say coloured and half caste. I only know from this forum that these terms are no longer considered polite.

WilsonFrickett Wed 24-Apr-13 19:30:01

I'm a 42 yo Scot and I wouldn't say 'coloured'. I think our parents thought it was 'softer' than black, and of course there is a big Scottish Asian community who aren't black, so 'coloured' became a catch-all. But it implies that white is the norm, so is best avoided. Likewise half-caste which I've only ever heard here to describe mixed-race.

Feck the blackboard and baa baa black sheep stuff is urban myth and daily Fail fuckwittery. Although my DS doesn't know what a blackboard is as his school uses interactive white boards grin

HazeltheMcWitch Wed 24-Apr-13 19:37:56

Fanjounchained - I'm a Scottish MNer, allbeit living south of the border at the mo. I'm 35. I'd never say coloured, and I'd be really surprised if I heard any of my generation describe anyone as coloured (with the exception of SA Cape-Coloured).

My mum would have sometimes said coloured, but honestly, not in the past decade or so.

Time to consign that word to the past, I think!

NadiaWadia Wed 24-Apr-13 19:38:49

I don't think 'coloured' is meant offensively. Just very dated, and yes, if you think about it, Wilson is right, it does imply white is the norm. Anyway, everyones bodies are 'coloured' aren't they, so it is pretty stupid, really.

'Half-caste' on the other hand, definitely does sound offensive.

Delayingtactic Wed 24-Apr-13 19:41:19

I understand why people want to know where people's ancestry lies but it does grate when someone asks 'but where are you really from?' As it implies that a non-Caucasian couldn't possibly be from Britain really. I have a different accent so understand more so why they ask me but my British Indian friend who was born and raised here gets asked this constantly.

Wabbitty Wed 24-Apr-13 20:15:48

Problem with saying Asian or British Asian it is like someone saying that they are European, it narrows it down to a large part of the world but that is all.

abbeynationall Wed 24-Apr-13 20:31:52

Personally, I would love to be reffered to as a coloured woman than a black woman. I find the term black quite deragotory and offensive to me because its almost always used to cover 'a multitude of sin' or in place of a prejudice of somekind. Its rarely used to paint/refer to something nice, noteworthy,normal , ordinary etc
Example, A marathon champion from Africa would hardly be reffered to as 'black , they'd probably be called the Kenyan man, Ethiopian etc. Now when you want to talk about immigrants or London, then that term 'BLACK' seems 'right' to use.
I hope somebody gets what it is am trying to say , can't speak english grin grin

eccentrica Wed 24-Apr-13 20:32:13

HeyYoni I can't count the number of times I have had that conversation.

Them: "Where are you from?"
Me: "London."
Them: "No, but I mean where are you really, you know, from?"
Me: "London."
Them (slightly impatient): "OK, where are your parents from?"
Me: "London."
Them: "Come on.. grandparents?"
Me: "London."

And so it goes on. What they mean is "oooh you look a bit... ethnic" and I can tell you that having been on the receiving end of it many, many times. My partner thought I was exaggerating when we first got together - now we've been together 6 years, he too is amazed at how often people do it.

To be honest it does come across as pretty rude and intrusive. If you want to know what someone's heritage or ethnicity is, you could ask directly, or you could (better) not ask at all. People will share whatever they want to share, it's very uncomfortable to be interrogated like that - especially if there are other people around.

MalkieFraser Wed 24-Apr-13 20:44:02

I'm from the West of Scotland and would have no problems being referred to as coloured. I'm mixed race. As a child I hated the terms 'black' and 'white' because so few of us are. I brought 'tinted' into use to describe myself amongst friends grin

apostropheuse Wed 24-Apr-13 20:54:31

I'm Scottish, fifty-one years old, and I would always say black. I have done so since the mid seventies. I would have said coloured before that. I'm forever pointing out (nicely of course) to people at work that coloured isn't an appropriate term.

The strange thing is, though, a few weeks ago I heard a black woman describe herself as a "woman of colour" so I suppose people vary in their perception of the term offensive.

UptoapointLordCopper Wed 24-Apr-13 20:57:30

Yes eccentrica: If you are foreign and you tell them sometimes it doesn't get better either.

Random stranger: where are you from?
Me: XYZ country.
Random stranger: Oh I love XYZ country. My best friend is from there too! He/she
is so in touch with nature. And the tribes are so lovely.

Or they tell you their colonial past. hmm

eccentrica Wed 24-Apr-13 20:57:46

apostropheuse "of colour" is a different term to "coloured" and has different connotations.

apostropheuse Wed 24-Apr-13 21:00:52

I didn't know that eccentrica So it's an ok term then?

abbeynationall Wed 24-Apr-13 21:01:01

Malkie, good to see am not the only one. I don't like being called black even though am blue black. PC says its not wise to sing baa baa black ship anymore or say blackboard as you risk offending people but insists on calling the same people black? confused

I agree with eccentrica, I find that kind of questioning about where you are 'really' from, very irritating. I know it's often well meant but I find it odd to sort of explore and point out people's differences when you don't know them well. And if you do know them well, it will be revealed without pushing for it anyway.

Tee2072 Wed 24-Apr-13 21:03:55

Person of colour. Covers all bases.

Black is not offensive in America, BTW.

persimmon Wed 24-Apr-13 21:13:54

I feel uncomfortable with the idea that 'black' is offensive, as isn't then the underlying assumption is there is something negative about being black, IYSWIM? I taught at very multi-ethnic schools in London and the black kids there called themselves black proudly. Coloured just sounds odd, like something from Love Thy Neighbour!

My mixed race brother is a hip hop musician and when tipsy one night made up a rap to amuse my dc's with the refrain "My names Davie and I'm a n****r".
I had a lot of explaining to do to a friend the next day when she came back from an outing with my dc's as they'd pointed at a black nan on the bus saying "look a n****r. My brother was in hysterics when I told him but I was not amused at all.
That man on the bus had no way of knowing that my dc's had mixed race family, and not at all racist. They were a lot younger then and were mortified when I told them of the incident recently.

I would like to add I am Glaswegian and would never use the word coloured.

Acantha Wed 24-Apr-13 21:22:55

Black isn't an offensive term at all here. It's used in textbooks. There's Black History Month, Black Student Unions, etc. I use black because it's easier than saying African-American. If somebody wants me to use another term, I will.

I'm not terribly fond of the term person of color because the default person is what? White?

I did have an older lady ask me where I was from once. I was only about 10 and completely misunderstood. She was somehow convinced I was Russian and was sure I had an accent. It was very hmm. I think she might've had too much to drink.

Serenitysutton Wed 24-Apr-13 21:24:50

So many word sound in themselves inoffensive, but it's the connotation and they way they were used to portray a certain idea. Commonly you seem to get a lot of racists saying that paki isn't offensive! It's short for Pakistan! I can't think of anyone of my age (30s) or over who isn't fully aware that if they're referring to someone as a paki, itsnt an incidental way of describing their background.

Yet at the same time I recall my DF telling my mum and I that Someone in a pub had called her a coon, and I had to have it explained even though mum was instantly horrified. It means nothing to me, have no idea if you can even get raccoons in this country. Totally unheard of.

sunshine401 Wed 24-Apr-13 21:39:16

Black is fine if you have to mention me by my colour hmm.

I get a lot of this type of Conversation:
Random Person - Where are you from?
Me- Manchester
RP- No, I mean where were you born?
Me- Manchester
RP- O right well where were your parents born?
Me- Manchester
I even had someone go on to say "yeah but you must of come from another country cause your black"
???????? WERIDO!!!!

My ds has had many arguments with friends because at school lunch break they speak of going to get a "chinky" when they mean a Chinese meal or they say they're going to the Paki shop for sweets. Some of them genuinely don't seem to realise the connotations, it's just how they've been brought up.
There is a large Romanian population in Glasgow now and even they get called Paki's. Geography obviously isn't a strong point with some of these idiots.

Just remembered that in the rap the line wad actually "My name's Davie and I'm a darkie." This seems to be a common term in Glasgow and I hate it. I've never heard it used by anyone who isn't racist apart ofcourse from my brother.

Another Scot here, from the NE. Never, every heard anyone in my family say 'coloured' except for my Great Auntie, and I think she was just using the polite word from her era (bearing in mind she was born in 1901!).

Also, I don't really understand the need to know about someone's ethnic mix, especially when you've just met them. Being interested in someone is one thing, but if they're clearly British (for example) then I'd see it as kind of rude to go on about their colour & family background. You wouldn't interrogate a white person about that sort of thing, probably, and for all you know they might just have a more interesting back story for you than you suspect!

Anyway, if you really get to know someone, they generally share details with you about their lives etc that they deem relevant to who they are. Don't we all?

Someone said something about Australians being taken aback by their use of the word 'black' Would be interested to know where that was- I have never met so many frothing racists in all my life as when I visited Oz. Not saying everyone was, not at all- there just seemed to be so many more people happy to come out with utter crap, quite casually..!

ComposHat Wed 24-Apr-13 22:08:32

Someone said something about Australians being taken aback by their use of the word 'black' Would be interested to know where that was- I have never met so many frothing racists in all my life as when I visited Oz

My partner said the same, ironically a lot of them are Expat Brits, who left in the 70s/80s who rage on about how Britain has gone to the dogs since the pakis, wogs and niggers [insert any vile racial epiphet you can think of] started 'taking over' yet see no contradiction in being emigrants themselves.

When they are over here I refuse to meet them, as if I really want to hear something really racist and stupid, it is quicker and easier to visit my Nan.

PrincessFiorimonde Wed 24-Apr-13 22:46:40

Someone said: "I know in America saying "black" is also offensive."

But I've never heard that before. Does anyone else think that's the case?

HoppinMad Wed 24-Apr-13 23:15:10

My parents are from the Indian subcontinent and I always describe myself as Asian, and when I was working before dc many of the clients/customers referred as the 'Asian lady' which didnt bother me at all. I dont go into the Indian/pakistani/bangladeshi details as its nobodys business really, unless someone important. Not the man on the bus for example!

One funny conversation recently went like this,

'So hoppin...where are you from?'
'Well my parents aree from south east Asia, but I was born here'
'No but where are you from?'
Me with blank face
'Its just you have a northern accent'
'Ohhh...' [Grin]

So that conversation can sometimes be totally innocent. That was me overthinking things!

I have to say it gets right on my tits when I hear young black boys calling each other ni**ers, or Asians using the word 'paki' but then get aggessive if somebody from a diiferent ethnicity uses it. its not a very good example to set for others is it?

PrincessFiorimonde Thu 25-Apr-13 00:48:01

I am sure I have said this before on MN: I am mixed-race English/Irish/south European/Asian. I have a white face. But my brother's skin tone is a little different from mine, and indeed at school he was called 'Paki' and took a few punches because of that. hmm

I am also quite old (52), so I remember the time in the late 1960s/early1970s when it was acceptable to call people 'coloured'. However, that time has long passed. Please, can we call people today what they want to be called?

Startail Thu 25-Apr-13 01:39:18

Your not 'allowed' to use coloured. Drives me nuts, in a rural area like this we don't have many ethnic minority people from other than eastern Europe and almost no one of African heritage.

They are not black, it's just just stupid. I couldn't call DDs Thai friend black. Fortunately I know her name and where she's from.

Unlike the nasty big brats at school who asked if she came from Mars, I wish she wasn't so nice and had dropped them in it (Y9s so not an accident angry)

ComposHat Thu 25-Apr-13 02:09:26


The first two paragraphs are mostly ill thought out nonsense. What is so hard about referring to people in a polite and respectful way they are comfortable with?

1) Why use a stupid and outdated term like 'coloured' we are all 'coloured' having white skin isn't absence of colour. It is a useless term as if the only two categories of people are white and non-white.

2) Obviously very few people described as 'black' have black skin, just as 'white' people actually have pink skin.

3) Your daughter's friend is of Asian, or South East Asian origin not 'black'. But why you would want or need to refer to her by anything than her name is beyond me.

4) What does living in a rural area with few minorities have to do with anything? I don't have any people with a disability in my social circle, but I don't go around referring to people with disabilities as cripples or spastics.

SconeRhymesWithGone Thu 25-Apr-13 02:42:51

“Black” is definitely not offensive in the US, quite the opposite. Its use arose during the civil rights movement through a concerted effort to replace “negro” and “colored.” Polls indicate that most black people in the US have no preference between “black” and “African American,” and the media in the US use both.

Using "Negro" or "colored" in the US would signal to the listener a pre-civil rights era sensibility, which would not be a good thing, especially in the South where I live.

NadiaWadia Thu 25-Apr-13 02:46:05

Something I don't get is why the term 'Asian' in the UK apparently only covers people whose family originated in India/Pakistan/Bangladesh. Then there is usually another box for 'Chinese', but what about anyone from Vietnam, Korea, Japan, etc? Also people from countries like Saudi Arabia, wouldn't that be in Asia? Anyway China was in Asia, last time I looked on the map! (Asia being a big place).

Its funny because in the US I understand things are the other way around and 'Asian' would be taken to mean someone from East Asia, what some would call 'Oriental' although I believe that is now considered offensive.

Just goes to show how badly thought out these tick boxes on forms are.

Bunbaker Thu 25-Apr-13 06:56:44

"Please, can we call people today what they want to be called?"

Judging from the posts on this thread there are too many variations to use a blanket term that is acceptable to everyone.

I am white British, but probably have more foreign blood in me than people of Asian or African origin whose family have been here for several generations.

I am saddened by the ignorance that so many of you still encounter today.

Tee2072 Thu 25-Apr-13 07:41:42

I don't get that either Nadia. As an American, it would never occur to me to call someone from India, Asian. They are Indian, are they not? Someone Asian is from China or Japan, in my American head.

I have no idea if that is PC or not. It's just the way I was taught.

Bunbaker Thu 25-Apr-13 07:52:49

I think we use the blanket term Asian for people from the Indian subcontinent to avoid causing offence. Pakistan and Bangladesh were once part of India so unless you actually know their background you could easily offend a Pakistani by assuming they are Indian and vice versa.

You are correct that Chinese and Japanese are also Asian and, correct me if I am wrong here, but I think we have a much higher proportion of people from the Indian subcontinent living in the UK than Chinese and Japanese.

MrsSpagBol Thu 25-Apr-13 08:05:01

Just wanted to say black is not offensive.

Also wanted to say "coloured" is how mixed race people describe themselves in southern Africa eg Cae coloured. However I would not use it here (the West) referring to black people due to slavery lnks / connotations etc.

I'm probably over-thinking, but referring to people as African/Asian/British whatever is just leading to more confusion as people move around the globe.

I have a white South African friend. He and his wife are African, born in South Africa. Their children are white British. Had he emigrated to the United States his children would have been white American, though in reality could have more claim to African American than black Americans whose family have been in the States for several generations. As all of us came from Africa anyway, aren't we all African Americans? I'm also confused when really white-skinned Americans describe themselves as black because their Great Grandma was black and their Grandad was Hispanic. It is all too confusing.

I will be so glad when we live in a world where skin colour is unimportant.

KobayashiMaru Thu 25-Apr-13 10:34:57

How do you know if someone is Indian though? Or Pakistani, Or Bangladeshi, or from Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka etc, but with Indian/PAkistani/ Bangladeshi heritage?

You don't, which is why Asian is correct, since all of the above are in Asia.

EldritchCleavage Thu 25-Apr-13 10:36:42

Malkie, good to see am not the only one. I don't like being called black even though am blue black. PC says its not wise to sing baa baa black ship anymore or say blackboard as you risk offending people but insists on calling the same people black?

How many times? This 'PC says' stuff is ALL A COMPLETE MYTH. I am not offended by 'Baa baa black sheep' (I sing it regularly) and I don't know a single black or Asian person who would be. And frankly, only a complete fool would ever claim otherwise.

And you don't have to be called black. The whole emphasis now is that people are free to define themselves. So if there is a description you prefer, ask people to use it.

I hate 'coloured'. Not just because it posits 'white' as the norm, but also because it is effectively a euphemism, stemming from a time when the overwhelming consensus was that being anything other than white European was inferior. Polite people found oblique, mealy-mouthed ways to refer to people like me-didn't want to refer too bluntly to unfortunate racial origins. But being black (or anything else) is not embarrassing, inferior or any kind of misfortune, so we can all happily be direct about it.

PrincessFiorimonde Thu 25-Apr-13 11:04:30

I will be so glad when we live in a world where skin colour is unimportant.

Yes, absolutely.

Apart from that, everything that Eldritch just said.

Fanjounchained Thu 25-Apr-13 18:18:58

Well you learn something new everyday...and even though someone did post that they would not object to being called "coloured" I won't use that term again after reading this thread. I'm actually quite shock at any offence I may have caused people in the past now....

JamieandtheMagicTorch Thu 25-Apr-13 18:21:19

Have often wondered how the term "black" came about. Like "white", it's not accurate.

Just musing

takeaway2 Thu 25-Apr-13 18:33:48

Yes I don't get the British way of calling Asians people from India/Pakistan and those who look like the Chinese (even though they may be Japanese, Korean, Singaporean, Vietnamese....) Chinese.

My kids are mixed race - white British and one of the above mentioned 'Chinese'. I never know what to class them on forms! Because surely 'mixed' covers every possible combination!!?

takeaway2 Thu 25-Apr-13 18:37:46

And interestingly enough when I first met my in laws, they just assumed I was British (I sound British, they live near big cities where there are lots of similarly colored people like me...)! grin They only realized that I was forrin when they wondered why they've not met my parents till the day before the wedding....

Sallyingforth Thu 25-Apr-13 19:09:51

I find this 'black' description puzzling.
I know that in the US it's a normal, accepted term. President Obama is described as black, and many people said how wonderful it was that a black person became President. Good for him.
But, he had one 'black' parent and one 'white' parent, so it seems to me that he is just as much 'white' and he is 'black'. So shouldn't he be described as 'mixed race' rather than 'black?

JamieandtheMagicTorch Thu 25-Apr-13 19:55:31

yy Sallying. It is puzzling

Bunbaker Thu 25-Apr-13 20:05:30

"Yes I don't get the British way of calling Asians people from India/Pakistan and those who look like the Chinese (even though they may be Japanese, Korean, Singaporean, Vietnamese....) Chinese"

Probably because many people genuinely can't tell the difference?

We have an Indian friend who is a Tamil. They are Tamil in Sri Lanka as well. So how would someone know how to differentiate between an Indian Tamil and one from Sri Lanka?

takeaway2 Thu 25-Apr-13 20:09:15

Sorry I didn't mean how can you not tell the difference? I meant given that that whole continent is Asia, it's more correct to refer to all as Asians rather than the Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi people as Asian and those Japanese/Chinese/Koreans as Chinese. Because they aren't.

Bunbaker Thu 25-Apr-13 20:16:06

I think it is simply a descriptive term to differentiate between people of Chinese looking origin and people of Indian sub continent looking origin.

Or maybe I am being naive.

TattyDevine Thu 25-Apr-13 20:28:06

I grew up in Australia. Most oriental people were referred to as "Asian". So what a UK born person might call Asian is very different; we would say "Indian". But actually that's not always right - it could be Pakistan etc, so actually "oriental" and "Asian" is probably better...

We never said coloured.

We didn't have many "black" people (African/Afro-Caribbean and other black people) at that time but if we did we would call them black, not coloured. This was in the 80's/90's

We had a name which was also adopted by those people for certain European races of a Mediterranean origin...but it is not considered acceptable here. It was used out in the open, not in a derogatory way.

By Asian people we were called "skips".

I didn't find this offensive (skippy the bush kangaroo? dunno... )

About the most racist I heard was "its spot the aussie round here!" in a predominantly Asian area.

There are separate issues regarding the treatment of our indigenous people, the Aborigines, and people can get quite divided about the way forward...this has cast Australian people as racist at times, possibly rightly so.

itsblackoveryonderhill Thu 25-Apr-13 20:37:03

my DH is half african (west) and half bajan (so essentially mixed race himself at face value if you ignore slavery from West Africa to the caribbean), but was born in England. He classes his ethnicity on forms as afro caribbean and doesn't mind being called black.

I'm white and born in England. Our DD is mixed race. On forms we put her down as black-mixed or white - mixed caribbean.

I must admit I really dislike it when people call DD half caste. We don't live in a caste system, so how can be half of something that is non existant?

When DD noticed that she doesn't look quite like DH or I and she was asking about colour I explained that DH is called Black and I'm called White and she is mixed (half mummy and half daddy), but in real life DH is Dark Brown, I'm Pinkish and freckly and DD is light brown.

I won't mind if DD denotes herself as white, black, mixed or other when she's older. Afterall, aren't we all just individual anyway?

Oh and with regards being called black or not being able to sing baa baa black sheep. We went to see DH family at the weekend. His brother has a 'white' partner also (in fact all his sibling are in mixed white/black relationships) and in their living room they had a golly wog and when DD asked me what it was I said a golly wog and the world did not stop, there was no sharp intake of breath, because when I was a child it was called a golly wog. It turned out that it was his brothers when he was a boy and it was a Robinsons golly wog that you saved for from the side of the jam.

DH does think that some black people have a bit of a chip on their shoulder about what to be called because he said, you generally know if what is said is meant offensively.

SconeRhymesWithGone Thu 25-Apr-13 21:25:52

So shouldn't he be described as 'mixed race' rather than 'black?

President Obama self-identifies as black.

JamieandtheMagicTorch Thu 25-Apr-13 21:55:03

Thanks Scone. That's interesting

CoolCadbury Thu 25-Apr-13 22:13:33

As an ethnic minority (or is it minority ethnic?), people asking me where I come from get different responses depending on how they ask and in what context. Usually i just tell them my heritage. Sometimes I get a bit obtuse and say the city where I grew up. Some people won't leave it though and they say "but were you born here?"

Does it matter?

The point is how I define myself is not set in concrete. I am British, I am Asian, I am a Mancunian. I am a mix and sometimes I don't think in terms of ethnicity - sometimes I am just a mum or a teacher.

My DS says he is English. It's up to him how he defines himself. Will others let him though?

BTW, I really dislike the term South Asian because its come over from America where Asian means people who have Chinese/Vietnamese/Japanese etc (and I am sorry I am sweeping a whole host of different heritages into the etc.).

CoolCadbury Thu 25-Apr-13 22:14:47

As far as I know, half caste is now labelled as dual heritage.

I've had those conversations with people who are visibly from an ethnic minority, but have a clearly British accent and I am interested in their home town in the UK. I always mean "where in the UK are you from?", but tend to say "where are you from?" It actually feels a bit wrong to say "where in the UK are you from?" as I probably wouldn't add the UK bit if the person was white and had a British accent.

NadiaWadia Fri 26-Apr-13 17:19:43

It just seems ridiculous that 'Asia' in the UK is only for those with family originating from the Indian sub-continent, and ignoring the fact that China is in Asia, also leaving people from other contries within Asia (from the Middle East to the Phillipines) without a box to tick. Yes there are obviously more people in the UK from India/P/B than from other parts of Asia, but so what?

This affects my family as DD is mixed race, and should really be defined as 'mixed race - white and Asian' but as DP is not from Indian sub-continent you just know the form compilers want her to tick 'mixed race - other'. Which she gets confused and annoyed about.

But I suppose it would be equally wrong to use 'Asian' to only refer to people from the Far East, as Americans do. And I can see that people from Bangladesh/Pakistan probably don't want to be classed as 'Indian'.

So I think we shoud probably use terms like 'East Asian' and 'West Asian' instead. Surely this is descriptive, neutral and non-offensive?

KobayashiMaru Fri 26-Apr-13 17:45:14

Where do you get that idea? Asian means anyone from Asia, including China and everywhere else. South East Asian is a common one, as is East Asian, these are already used.

NadiaWadia Fri 26-Apr-13 17:53:54

On many forms my family have had to complete, eg medical, or for schools, , there is one box for 'Asian' and one for 'Chinese'. Sometimes 'Asian' is subdivided into 'Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi' so it is quite clear what they think 'Asian' means. And people from elsewhere in Asia have no box to tick. Or maybe the bureaucrats in my area are just a bit thicker than average at creating forms? Maybe it is better elsewhere?

UptoapointLordCopper Fri 26-Apr-13 19:14:12

My experience of forms is similar to Nadia's. Took me years to realise Chinese is not Asian. hmm

takeaway2 Fri 26-Apr-13 20:27:57

Same experience too with Nadia.

CoolCadbury Fri 26-Apr-13 22:24:28

There are usually "Asian/other" boxes.

LemonsLimes Fri 26-Apr-13 23:07:33

In the context you gave, when you are needing to identify which person you are talking about i think it is fine Bunbaker. But some people will use it when there is no reason for it. eg. "Oh this black woman in the supermarket really annoyed me today." etc. In that context I would just say "This woman in the supermarket" etc etc

ComposHat Sat 27-Apr-13 01:05:44

Yes I am always puzzled that people feel mentioning some one's skin colour is shameful or to be avoided in a purely descriptive sense.

I used to share an office with a bloke who was a similar age, height and build to me. The ley distinguishing feature was that I was white snd he was black. The receptionist used to tie herself in knots trying to describe us to clients. .. go and see John he is in office on the right he's the one with err the frizzy hair.

It's ever so late, but ...

'Black' is often used as a political identity, espcially in the US, isn't it? I was reading a compilation of essays, one of which was by a woman whose parents were Chinese - she was identifying as 'black', so far as I could understand, to identify herself with a political movement that differentiated itself from white people.

I think increasingly, these words are going to be as much/little references to colour as 'blue' is a literal description of Tories!

Anyway - I wanted to post because I wanted to ask about something. I grew up thinking of 'coloured' as being an out-of-date term that had, by the time I was growingup in the 80s, become known as racist. And I knew of 'woman of colour' as a term mostly used in the US that was not racist. A man I know - who is far too superior to me for me to ask him about it - refers to himself as 'coloured' and I know he's South African. I've googled an I know 'cape coloured' refers to a particular background - but can anyone help me, would he have meant this term as a normal term to use if you're from SA, or was he more reclaiming it in the way people do other terms? I've no need to use the word, I just wondered.

Btw, I think one reason people over-compensate about not referring to skin colour, is because as I understand it, we know that people over-emphasize those details without meaning to. If someone who seldom sees someone who is white, they will actually not register many visual details, because their brain is telling them not to take up an unnecessary amount of visual memory. It's not racist - it's a feature of our brains' efficiency - but we do have to compensate for it occasionally IMO, or it can be upsetting to people.

Cravingdairy Sat 27-Apr-13 02:24:43

Fanjo 36, Edinburgh, would never say coloured. No one I know under about 60 would say it.

Tenacity Sat 27-Apr-13 02:29:30

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir,
Three bags full;
One for the master,
And one for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

I can see why the lyrics have been considered dubious by some. wink

LinusVanPelt Sat 27-Apr-13 02:44:46

"Black" in the US is not offensive at all, but it is often used interchangeably with "African - American", which typically refers to people whose families have been in the States for many generations, often with ties to the South, often with their roots in the country beginning with slavery.

So some people whose families are from the Caribbean, or from Latin America with African roots, or who are otherwise of African descent but with a different family cultural history than the 'Black American' experience, prefer not to be referred to as "Black".

Not because it's an offensive term, but because the culture and traditions associated with the term do not reflect their own culture and traditions.

For example, a member of my family was born in the US of (Black) Jamaican parents. She refers to herself as "Jamaican" or "Jamaican-American", not as "Black". Her children, whose father is African-American, she would describe as being "half Black and half Jamaican."

wreckitralph Sat 27-Apr-13 02:52:07

I live in Asia and am friends with a lot of ladies from around the region. They generally call themselves:

From China - Chinese
Japan - Japanese
Korea - Korean
HK - Chinese
Singapore/ Philippines/ Vietnam/ Cambodia, south east asia - Asian
India - Indian.

I've never heard an Indian lady refer to herself as Asian.

sashh Sat 27-Apr-13 06:49:10

So that conversation can sometimes be totally innocent. That was me overthinking things!

I've been on the other end

Me: where are you from originally?
Him: well my parents were born in Jamaica
Me: No your accent, I can't place it, it sounds a bit Manchester

I also use the radical idea of asking people

One of my friends says when she was growing up she was coloured, which she liked, it was different, and flowers were coloured so that was nice.

Then she hit her teens and suddenly she was black.

Also why don't we say British African or similar rather than Afro Caribbean as standard?

Lots of the kids at my DCs school have been born and brought up here so British, but the parents are originally from Ethiopia/Nigeria and not the Caribbean - there's no other box for them to tick at the doctors except Afro Caribbean,, which they aren't.

I am barely British by blood as my family have always married foreigners - my DM is Swedish, my DG German/Mexican and the same for DH - his DF is half German, and his DM Irish/Scottish - I am never quite sure what box to tick for the DCs! I often just tick Other and then get this look from the receptionists!

mamaggie Sat 27-Apr-13 07:35:33

Is it politically incorrect to use the term 'oriental' to describe someone from the Far East? It sounds as if it is but I'm not sure. My mum, almost 80, refers to her Japanese neighbours, as 'the oriental family' and I always want to correct her - but am I wrong to do so? confused

Altinkum Sat 27-Apr-13 07:39:28

fanjo I'm Scottish and now live in the NE of England, I was also brought brought up to say Coloured, alot of my family still use it if needed.

Its only when coming to England that I noticed black was the correct and non offensive way of describing someone's ethic race.

KobayashiMaru Sat 27-Apr-13 11:02:55

Oriental is colonial and therefore non-U.

asking if something is politically in/correct is arsey, how about asking if something is polite instead?

EldritchCleavage Tue 30-Apr-13 01:09:26

Also why don't we say British African or similar rather than Afro Caribbean as standard?

We do. I would never refer to myself as African-Caribbean ('Afro' is a hairstyle) and nor would any of my friends or relatives. British African (or African British) is common. Your GP sounds v outdated.

Oriental is not used now and causes massive offence in the US.

Presumably we would need both African Carribean and British African to distinguish between those whose families came from Africa straight to the UK and those of Carribean descent. Or do people of those ethnic backgrounds not make this distinction themselves?

ComposHat Tue 30-Apr-13 23:04:32

Or do people of those ethnic backgrounds not make this distinction themselves?

Erm very much so. Some African-Caribbean friends have been quite disparaging about British Africans, seeing them as uptight and unsophisticated country cousins. One friend in particular was convinced all british africans were either eternal students, illegal minicab drivers or Internet fraudsters.

Kewcumber Tue 30-Apr-13 23:16:05

How old is your DD, OP? Because I don't use "black" to describe people when I'm explaining race/colour to my (mixed race) DS. People aren;t black or white or yellow they are all skin coloured and there are almost as many skin colours as there are people.

I explain that people use the word "black" or white as a short cut to describing people whose ancestors were originally from northern Europe and "black" for those whose family came from Africa or somewhere else hot.

DS is also one of those people labelled "chinese" becasue we aren;t used to using the generic "Asian", I generally correct them "central Asian" or "from Kazakhstan" which causes much confusion as most of them aren't aware there is any such place - they think Sacha Baron Cohen made it up!

ComposHat - I thought they would, but I think that ethnicity is a bad area to make assumptions, particularly if, like me, you come from a not very diverse area and have limited personal experience of people from non-white ethnic groups. Thanks for clarifying.

VenusRising Wed 01-May-13 09:39:45

LittleRed, I think South Africa had its own special brand of racial differentiation : for apartheid to work there they needed to say someone was white, or black, or coloured.
All the Asian population, like ghandi, who was born there iirc, were coloured, not black.

Fwiw I think that when the economic sanctions were in force, Japan still traded with SA, for the dubious pleasure of being classified as white by J'burg!

So 'coloured' means something quite particular in SA.

I must say I always describe people from their hairstyles: the woman with the short blond hair, the woman with the braids, the woman with the long black hair, the woman with the pink hair, you get my drift.
I'm colour blind, as I think we are all coffee coloured, in our own ways-from espresso to flat white.
I love hearing about other cultures; say, Bavarian, or learning how to cook using ingredients we don't find in Europe.

As for people asking me where I'm from, I don't really know, a lot of my relatives come from all over the world, with Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist faiths. So I say "I'm from Earth, even though I look like I'm from Venus"! grin

i hate this I tick white britsh for my dc and they then look at my son and say are you sure

But then i say well then do you have a half european box and they still do hmm look and say tick the mixed race box

ds2 is half italian but to be fair he is very dark even for Italian .Hair and skin

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