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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.

EhricLovesTeamQhuay Wed 24-Apr-13 17:27:08

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.

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