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How should white people refer to other races (in UK)

(392 Posts)
seesawteddy Thu 18-Apr-19 09:31:12

I am not being provocative, I genuinely need to know what words are offensive because I think I mess up sometimes.
I thought ‘brown people’ was okay because that’s what my Indian friends use to refer to themselves and each other, but just read on here it’s offensive, so must just be the norm for my group of mates.

Another one is ‘people of colour / PoC, it’s the term my friend from Iraq uses and he’s doing a phd to do with race equaity. But I’ve had a few funny look recently when I used it.

The problem with Asian/Midde Eastern/Pakistani etc is sometimes I don’t know what someone’s heritage is, and also I think it is rude if they are actually British citizens.

So if I want to say something like “What have been the experiences of _ in UK airports?”
How would I say it?

Halija Thu 18-Apr-19 09:33:08

I don’t think a white person should say ‘brown people’. Just say Asian - the Arabian peninsula and Pakistan are both in Asia after all, so it covers both.

Halija Thu 18-Apr-19 09:33:46

Or ‘people of Asian origin’ if you don’t want to overshadow the fact that they are British citizens.

WhatdoImean Thu 18-Apr-19 09:35:26

"Mahesh", "John" or simply "Mate" works for me :-)

Yes, yes - I know, I am being flippant.

DoubtOfTheOrdinary Thu 18-Apr-19 09:37:02

POC is stupid. We all have a colour, unless you're a ghost.
Just say brown. Trying to pretend that people don't come in different colours is far, FAR more offensive IMO than acknowledging that some people are white, some are brown, some are black.

Fluffiest Thu 18-Apr-19 09:38:03

My School was nearly 50/50 racial diversity between white and Pakistan descendants, we were taught to say Asian Heritage, but most people around me use Asian as an ethnic description. It only causes confusion around Americans who use Asian to mean Chinese.

Hadjab Thu 18-Apr-19 09:38:12

Brown people just smacks of the 70s. I prefer to be called black - POC is too PC for my liking, we’re all people of colour, no one is colourless....

DoubtOfTheOrdinary Thu 18-Apr-19 09:39:18

Just say Asian

I'm brown, but I'm not Asian; I'm mixed race.

CuriousaboutSamphire Thu 18-Apr-19 09:39:24

Personally I don't - not here anyway. I will twist myself silly in order not to make any mention of any other nationality, skin colour, etc

Recent posts on MN have really cemented this for me. As a white person I can not use descriptive language, it is always racist. So I don't.

Sadly that means that questions like yours cannot be safely asked. You will alwys find someone objects to your terminology and the poit of the question will be lost forever in the heated mud slinging that will follow!

Happily, out here in the real world, I can have those sorts of conversatons with all the black, brown, muslim, Eastern European, etc people I know. Mainly because eye contact and personal knowledge of the individuals involved takes away the perceived slights and insults the written word conveys only too well!

AestheticPerfection Thu 18-Apr-19 09:39:44

Despite what I learnt at university, I still don't get what to say. I don't want to come across as ignorant, or rude or racist. I want to make anyone I speak with or of, feel comfortable, equal and valid. But I just never know what is acceptable.

beela Thu 18-Apr-19 09:40:46

I thought POC was totally un-pc. Wasn't there an MP who got into lots of trouble for using that term a few weeks ago?

April241 Thu 18-Apr-19 09:43:32

I can't thank of many situations where I'd need to describe by race other than in work. I have patients who'll ask me which nurse/doctor/physio etc they've just seen and then trying to describe how they look, if I start rhyming off names they'll often say they didn't catch their name so wouldn't know even if I said so.

I admit that can be a bit awkward sometimes as I don't want to say black or brown if they look Asian but then I don't want to offend if they look Asian but have lived in Glasgow they're whole life.

In school there was one girl in my class who had Chinese parents and the boy next door to my gran was black so I didn't grow up with many other races and I'm always really worried about offending anyone.

SimonJT Thu 18-Apr-19 09:43:44

I would just call them Dave, or Steve, not “oh this white guy I know”.

MollyHuaCha Thu 18-Apr-19 09:43:49

You are likely to cause offence whatever you say.

Where possible, take your cue from the people who are referring to. How do they refer to themselves as an ethnic group?

seesawteddy Thu 18-Apr-19 09:43:52

Thanks for your replies. Also, please comment if you are a (person of colour) because you have the best insight I know.

April241 Thu 18-Apr-19 09:44:54


JustDanceAddict Thu 18-Apr-19 09:47:31

Black for black people
Asian for those from Indian sub-continent.

The black friends I have say they’re black - they can make jokes about it but I wouldn’t!

I rarely refer to people by their colour unless having to describe someone visually.

werideatdawn Thu 18-Apr-19 09:48:05

I like to be called brown because I am. I'm mixed race, so when people call me black I feel like they're ignoring that fact.
Coloured and of colour just annoys me because we are all of colour and I politely correct it when people refer to me as such.
I firmly believe intention is everything. If you call me something I don't really like but you clearly didn't intend to offend me, it really doesn't matter. It's just hurtful if somebody knows it upsets you and does it anyway.

ScreamScreamIceCream Thu 18-Apr-19 09:50:08

@beela shows how much you pay attention. She used the term "coloured".

edgeofheaven Thu 18-Apr-19 09:50:08

Black is fine with me but depends how it’s used. I’ve corrected people for calling me coloured.

Flurgle Thu 18-Apr-19 09:51:45

If you are describing someone you don’t know you can’t just say Dave or Adil or whatever.
I have kids at school twisting themselves in knots trying to describe a kid whose name they don’t know, without mentioning skin colour. So there does need to be a way of describing people without being rude.

CupcakeDrama Thu 18-Apr-19 09:53:02

I mixed race and would hate being called brown.

Camomila Thu 18-Apr-19 09:54:15

I think you can only use silly terms like ‘brown’ if you are talking about your DP/best mate etc. and even then only if they are ok with female friends can say daft things like ‘bitch please’ in a reclaiming way rather than in an offensive way.

DS says he and daddy are brown and mummy is pink but he also knows mummy is from Italy and daddy’s family are from the Philipines and they are different countries.

I tend to say DH is Asian rather than Filipino on mumsnet just because it’s a bit vaguer.

I don’t tend to mention people’s race/ethnicity etc unless it’s if someone gave me a local recipe or something.
In writing I use BME (black and minority ethnic) residents, or BME students etc. (It seems to be the most commonly used acronym in my discipline)

DoubtOfTheOrdinary Thu 18-Apr-19 09:58:58

The way I see it, "brown" is just a factual observation, like "blonde" or "tall" or "curly-haired". Once you start trying to guess at someone's ethnicity, you're making assumptions they may not appreciate. People have assumed that I'm Asian, Mediterranean, Israeli, and Latina, but I'm none of those things, and I wonder why they felt the need to need to randomly guess at my ethnic background when they could have just used an objective, factual descriptor. Anyone with eyes can see that my skin is the colour brown.

NataliaOsipova Thu 18-Apr-19 09:59:34

So there does need to be a way of describing people without being rude.

I struggle with this too; never quite sure what is “correct” and end up being ridiculously verbose (eg “she’s British with Chinese ancestors” was my last attempt and met with a rather odd look!). In a room full of non-white people, obviously I’d have no problem saying, for example, “You know Steve, he’s the white guy”, but I’m never quite sure if it’s correct to describe someone as “black”, or even to describe them as “Chinese” if they are clearly British.

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