Ethnic and National Origin
In our written content, photos and videos, and everyday work, we support and engage with people from a broad range of ethnicities, nationalities, and backgrounds. It’s important to give everyone fair and accurate representation, as well as equal opportunities to have their needs met and voices heard.
Our language should be inclusive and sensitive of skin color, ethnicity, and nationality:
The color of someone’s skin is a physical characteristic. It may correlate with an ethnicity, but it is not the same. Someone can be discriminated against based on color entirely independently of their ethnic background.
Ethnicity relates to culture rather than appearance. Members of an ethnic population group connect with each other based on shared attributes that distinguish them from other groups. These attributes can include ancestry, language, traditions, or religion.
Nationality is a cultural term similar to ethnicity, but it relates specifically to the country a person is from.
Describing people correctly and equally
Though there are several ethnic groups that you may need to write about and describe, doing so accurately does not need to be difficult. As with many personal characteristics, it’s better to ask your subject how they would like to be described, rather than assuming.
Certain terms might change and come into and out of use over time. Inclusive language is designed to reflect how a group identifies itself, rather than to be a static, unchanging ‘truth’. So, if you’re unsure, ask respectfully.
Here are some overall principles to help you write inclusively of skin color, ethnicity, and nationality:
- Avoid treating any group as ‘default’ (e.g., using the term ‘non-white’ because it defines all groups in relation to white people)
- Use people-centric language where possible, and endeavor to show the whole person. (e.g., rather than describe someone as ‘a Kenyan’, try, for example, ‘a corn grower from Kenya who is trying to diversify their crops’. By doing this, you are ensuring your language is inclusive and the focus is not primarily on the individuals nationality. It also means you are able to provide the reader additional information relevant to the story)
- Be as specific as possible (e.g., if you refer to ‘ethnic minorities’, do you need to group all minorities together or is it really a specific ethnic group you are talking about?)
- You can be inclusive while being specific (e.g., instead of the phrase ‘BME [Black and minority ethnic], which aggregates groups together and emphasizes some over others, could you list the individual groups concerned? This is both more specific and inclusive)