Avoiding Racist Language

Avoiding Racist Language

A surefire way to destroy collegiality and respect in your workplace, among colleagues or employees, or clients is to use racially insensitive language.

It’s imperative that your professional communication is respectful and inclusive to your audience or subject. ProWritingAid provides essential support to help you maintain respect and inclusivity by flagging inappropriate terms in your work.

Race and Ethnicity

Race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably, though they shouldn’t be.

Simply stated:

Race refers to physical characteristics. Racial categories include, though are not limited to: Aboriginal, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, White.

Ethnicity refers to shared culture, language, practices, and ancestry. Sometimes ethnicities are described in general terms (Latinx, Latino, Latina) and other times with a specific country or region name (Irish American).

People of different races can share ethnicity. For example, there are Black Italians, Asian Italians, and White Italians; though their racial features are different, these groups share their Italian ethnicity.

Terminology: Race and Ethnicity

Some General Guidelines

  • A person or group’s race or ethnicity should only be included in your communication when relevant.

  • When possible, ask for the person or group’s preferred terms.

  • When possible, be more specific than general when describing ethnicities. This means descriptors will reference countries or regions of origin, i.e. Mexican American or Chinese American vs. Latin American or Asian American.

  • Be careful with comparisons to avoid presenting one race as the “standard.” For example, saying “Whites and Non-Whites” may imply (depending on what you’re comparing) that “White” is the dominant, or centered race, and “everyone else” is lumped into a separate category.

  • Avoid stereotyping.

  • Avoid using qualifiers implying that a particular description is exceptional to the group. For example, “intelligent [race] students.”

Use/Don’t Use

There are many well-known terms referencing race or ethnicity that are no longer used due to their demeaning/disrespectful connotations. Those well-known words do not appear on the list below. Only those that are perhaps less-known are included.

Use Do Not Use
Native American, American Indian, Aboriginal, Indigenous Natives, Indians
East Asian (Chinese)
South Asian (India, Pakistan, etc.)

Southeast Asian (Philippines, Indonesia, etc.)

Pacific Islander (Fijian, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Northern Mariana Islander, Palauan, Samoan, Tahitian and Tongan) Exotic
Black, African American* Afro-American
Latino, Latina, Latinx (from Latin America including Central America, South America, and the Caribbean) Spanish
Hispanic (people who speak Spanish or who are descendants of those from Spanish-speaking countries) Spanish
Arab (Arab speaking countries) Middle Eastern
Persian (Farsi speakers) Middle Eastern
North African Middle Eastern
White, European American
Multiracial, biracial, mixed race
Immigrant Alien
People of color; underrepresented groups

BIPOC: acronym for Black, Indigenous, People of Color

  • “African American” should not be used as an umbrella term for people of African ancestry worldwide because it obscures other ethnicities or national origins, such as Nigerian, Kenyan, Jamaican, or Bahamian.” (APA Style Guide).

Final Words of Advice

Unfortunately, the list of racial slurs and pejoratives is extremely long and even has its own Wikipedia page. While you are most likely aware of the ones familiar to your area, you need to be certain to avoid using those that are unfamiliar to you accidentally. Let ProWritingAid help you avoid those accidents and the hurt such words can bring to your audience and your business.