These definitions in the glossary are starting points, and are not comprehensive or definitive. There are often other possible definitions, and are always new ways of thinking about these terms and concepts. It is also important to note that these terms are constantly evolving, and may mean something very different now than they did recently or will in the future. They also have different meanings in different contexts. This glossary does not cover all of the possible meanings and connotations that each of these words can have, but is intended to be a start
Language is continuously evolving. There are a significant number of words, phrases and acronyms that appear when talking about race and ethnicity which often change depending on the context of the conversation. As such, It's important to understand the meaning behind the terms we use to address people and to keep updated and willing to refresh our language so we use appropriate and respectful terms.
It’s also imperative to remember that individuals will have their own particular preferences as to how they would describe themselves, and how they would wish to be described.
Identity is extremely personal. You should listen, educate yourself, learn, and politely ask about preferences, if in doubt.
Allyship is a process, and everyone has more to learn. Allyship involves a lot of listening. Sometimes, people say "doing ally work" or "acting in solidarity with" to reference the fact that "ally" is not an identity, it is an ongoing and lifelong process that involves a lot of work.
One type of ally is a white ally. A white ally acknowledges the limits of her/his/their knowledge about other people’s experiences but doesn't use that as a reason not to think and/or act. A white ally does not remain silent but confronts racism as it comes up daily, but also seeks to deconstruct it institutionally and live in a way that challenges systemic oppression, at the risk of experiencing some of that oppression. Being a white ally entails building relationships with both people from ethnically diverse communities, and also with white people in order to challenge them in their thinking about race. White allies don’t have it all figured out, but are committed to non-complacency.
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An anti-racist is someone who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing antiracist ideas. This includes the expression of ideas that racial groups are equals and do not need developing, and supporting policies that reduce racial inequity.#
'BAME' and 'BME'
These acronyms have been used to refer to people of non-White ethnicities who are minoritised in the UK.
Note that these statistical categories do not tend to include White minority ethnic groups but they do include those who identify as having a mixed ethnicity.
Both 'BAME' (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) and 'BME' (Black and minority ethnic) are often used when making comparisons with the White population in the UK and reflect a common way of gathering and collating statistics, for example, by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and in company diversity monitoring.
'BAME' became more frequently used than 'BME' to recognise the significant and distinct Asian population in the UK. It should be noted too that the ‘Asian’ category used by the ONS includes South Asian ethnicities (for example, Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani) and East Asian ethnicities (for example, Chinese).
Use of the term 'BAME' has been increasingly criticised. In Black History Month, our Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division recorded a podcast on ‘Is BAME problematic?’.
More recently, UK broadcasters (the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) have committed to avoid using the acronym wherever possible.
The controversy and unease with the term 'BAME' largely stems from the grouping together of diverse ethnicities, and the implication that it reflects a singular or homogenous ethnic identity.
However, it may be appropriate in some contexts still to use such broad categories, for example, when you are making statistical comparisons between White and the Black, Asian and minority ethnic populations.
It's better to write them in full at first use, as research has found many also do not understand what they stand for. You should also use capitals and avoid writing ‘Bame’, which implies it's a distinct word or identity, or pronouncing it as a word.
The population of the UK has become much more ethnically diverse and the range of differing experiences and identities has grown.
There is a real need to acknowledge this and improve our understanding of the experiences of different racial or ethnic groups rather than lumping them all together. Data collection and statistical analysis (sample size permitting) should seek to move beyond simplistic comparisons wherever possible.
Terms such as 'BAME' or 'BME' should not be used as a replacement for directly addressing a specific racial or ethnic group or individual when that is who we are speaking about. They are not adjectives and do not describe an individual identity. For example, avoid saying “He’s a BAME solicitor”, where possible be specific and say “He’s a Black solicitor” or “She’s an Asian solicitor”. The IN-Ren Network uses the term ethnically diverse communities after consultation with members.
Equality Act definitions
In the Equality Act 2010, the protected characteristic of ‘race’ is defined as including colour, ethnic or national origin, or nationality.
There is some overlap with the characteristic of religion or belief too with Jews and Sikhs considered to be ethnic groups under the act, although Muslims are not considered an ethnic group but a religious group only under the act’s definitions.
Ethnicity is broader than race and has usually been used to refer to long shared cultural experiences, religious practices, traditions, ancestry, language, dialect or national origins (for example, African-Caribbean, Indian, Irish).
Ethnicity can be seen as a more positive identity than one forged from the shared negative experiences of racism. It's more commonly used and asked about within diversity questionnaires in the UK.
Intersectionality is a framework for conceptualizing a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face.
In other words, intersectional theory asserts that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers. Intersectionality recognizes that identity markers (e.g. “woman” and “black”) do not exist independently
Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified visibly from black Asian or minority ethnic background.
The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.
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People of Colour
This is primarily used in the USA and has not been fully adopted within the UK although it has become more popular.
Some perceive it as a more positive term than 'BAME' or 'BME'.
However, others see it as similarly problematic, in that it groups together people of great ethnic diversity and different shared experiences and identities.
Exposing [one’s] multiple identities can help clarify the ways in which a person can simultaneously experience privilege and oppression. For example, a Black woman in America does not experience gender inequalities in exactly the same way as a white woman, nor racial oppression identical to that experienced by a Black man. Each race and gender intersection produces a qualitatively distinct life.
Positive Action is about taking specific steps to improve equality in the workplace and create a level playing field for all. It involves activities which assist employers to identify and remove any actual or perceived barriers to the recruitment, retention and progression of people from underrepresented groups.
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Race is a categorisation that is based mainly on physical attributes or traits, assigning people to a specific race simply by having similar appearances or skin colour (for example, Black or White).
The categorisation is rooted in White supremacy and efforts to prove biological superiority and maintain dominance over others.
It's now widely accepted that race is a social construct. However, having been racialised and shared common experiences of racism, racial identity is important to many and can be a basis for collective organising and support for racially minoritised individuals.
Race versus ethnicity
Race and ethnicity are commonly used and are often used interchangeably. However, they evolved in different ways and do not hold the same meaning (although there is overlap).
Unconscious bias relates to social stereotypes that we hold about groups of people outside our conscious awareness. These are often incompatible with our conscious values, however, they still affect our thought processes and the decisions that we make, especially when making quick decisions.
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Refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.
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- Consider which racial or ethnic groups you're talking about and ensure the terms you're using accurately reflect them
- Avoid using umbrella terms unnecessarily and remember they do not refer to a singular homogenous ethnic group
- Always explain acronyms in full in any writing, particularly at first use, and avoid pronouncing or writing as words
- Seek more detailed data and insights wherever possible so you can better recognise, understand and reflect the experiences of different minoritised ethnic groups
- Accept and acknowledge that ethnicity is an integral part of a person’s identity and treat it as such; avoid describing a person’s identity as ‘BAME’
- Respect people’s preferences and allow options to self-describe when asking survey questions
- It can be okay to clarify how people describe their identity, but first, question why you need to know and avoid making racially minoritised individuals feel like outsiders by asking questions like “where are you from?”
- Continue to educate yourself, listen and learn as language continually evolves
- Own and learn from your mistakes, apologise if you get terminology wrong and cause offence
Below you will find a list of useful links and more information. Please get in touch if you have any problems accessing these.