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Some people worry a bit about which words are okay to use when they're talking about 'race'. Most people know words which are meant to be insulting, which are meant to put people down, but aren't so sure about other words.

Take someone who has a mother who is black and a father who is white. At one time they would have been called a 'half-caste' but this is now usually thought to be a bit insulting. 'Mixed race' was used next, but nowadays most people in this situation seem to prefer 'dual heritage'.

Remember the old playground rhyme

'Sticks and stones may break my bones
but names will never hurt me'

This is not true - anyone who has been called names knows that. But how do we know which names and words will hurt? The best test is to ask, but this is not always easy or possible for everyone. To help with this, lots of people have been asked for their advice to try to get this page right.

The people who ought to decide whether a name or 'label' is okay (or not) are the people who the name is used for, the people who have to wear the label.

  • If young people don't like being called 'kids' then adults should ask them what they want to be called.
  • If someone who can't walk doesn't like being called a 'cripple' then others should respect that.
  • The same goes for girls who don't like to be referred to as 'birds' or 'bitches'.

Words which people generally think are okay


People with roots in Africa or the Caribbean generally prefer this word to describe themselves (though some older people may not). Of course they are not really black like shoes can be black, but then 'white' people are not really white, are they? One of the reasons the word 'black' is preferred is that in the past people were often taught that black = bad or evil, and many people now want to say that there is nothing bad or evil about dark skin and that they are proud of it. As long ago as the 1960s black people in the USA summed this up in the phrase 'black is beautiful'. Some people with Asian roots call themselves 'black' but most don't.


This is the term people with roots in the Caribbean tend to prefer, as an alternative to 'black'. They prefer it to what they used to be called, which was 'West Indian'.


This is the most general word for people with roots or family connections in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. You aren't likely to annoy anyone by using it.

Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese etc.

If you know someone has roots or family connections in one of these places then one of these words is fine, though people can be touchy if you kind of suggest they are not really British when they think they are. If you had a friend with an Italian name because her Italian grandparents moved to Britain in 1950, would you call her Italian or British? Perhaps you would not be sure, perhaps it might depend on whether she felt a bit Italian herself, spoke Italian, went to an Italian-speaking Catholic church?

Roots or family connections in...

This is a useful expression. Taking India as an example, some people in Britain came here from India quite recently (not many, actually); some people have been here forty years, others (almost everyone under the age of 25) were born here. In this mixture some have Indian passports, but most have British passports and most know no other home other than Britain. They are British, but they have roots or family connections in India.

Ethnic minorities

This is a funny phrase because it's often used in quite a vague way. Actually, you will find that people often use it when they mean black and Asian people, though ethnic has nothing to do with colour. The Irish in Britain are a minority ethnic group. You could say Welsh people are an ethnic group.

Muslim, Sikh, Hindu etc.

Sometimes a person's religion is more important to them than their family's roots, so it is sometimes better to describe them as a Sikh (for example) than as an Indian.

Words which people don't like much


An old-fashioned word which seems to want to avoid saying 'black'. White people are often more comfortable with it than, say, 'black ......' But like it says above, they should listen to what 'coloured' people themselves want to be called - and it isn't coloured!


This simply means someone who has moved their home from one country to another. It is often disliked because most of Britain's black and Asian people are not immigrants, they were born here, but people still call them immigrants. British people who moved their homes from here to somewhere else (like Australia, America, India or Africa) were usually called 'settlers'. Funny that.

Paki, Chinky

Sometimes people use these words as a shortened form of the full word, as an abbreviation. Pakistanis and Chinese people hate it. More often, 'Paki' is used on purpose as a general, insulting word for anyone with Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi roots, and then it's just as insulting as the range of other words which most people know (so there's no need to spell them out here).

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