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What to do and what to avoid when writing about ethnicity

It’s always important to talk about ethnicity, especially when it comes to talking about diversity in clinical trials. It’s also important to know how to talk about ethnicity too. So, we’ve made you a step-by-step guide on what you should and shouldn’t do when talking and writing about ethnicity. Let’s get stuck in.

If you’re a regular reader of COUCH Health’s blogs, you’ll know we use the term ethnic minorities a lot. But what exactly do we mean by this? We use the term ethnic minorities to talk about all ethnic groups that aren’t the White British group (or the White American group if we’re talking about disparities in the United States).

You’ll also notice how we don’t use BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic), BME (Black and minority ethnic) and ‘people of colour’ very often. BAME and BME aren’t very commonly used in the general public, and we want our materials to be understood clearly by everyone. The term ‘people of colour’ is more indicative of race rather than ethnicity, and it’s important to understand the difference between the two.

Do: Ethnic minorities

Don’t: BAME, BME, and ‘people of colour’

Race vs. ethnicity

Simply put, race is based on physical attributes, which can be anything from skin colour to hair texture. Whereas ethnicity includes cultural identity too, and includes a whole lot more. Ethnicity encompasses a person’s traditions, language, religion, culture, and history. So, if we were to use the term ‘people of colour’, we’re excluding White minority groups, like Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller groups.

Race: Physical attributes and characteristics that are considered common in groups of people with similar ancestry.

Ethnicity: A collection of shared cultures, such as language, ancestry, practices, beliefs and traditions.

Phrasing makes all the difference

When you’re talking about different ethnic groups, you must make sure your phrasing is correct. Research shows that referring to groups of people as ‘people from a Black Caribbean background’ or ‘people from a White British background’ or ‘the Black ethnic group’ or ‘White people’ are widely accepted phrases.

Referring to groups of people in the following ways, was not deemed appropriate: ‘Blacks’, ‘Mixed people’ and ‘Mixed race people’.

Do: ‘people from a ___ background’, ‘the ___ ethnic group’, ‘Black/White people’

Don’t: ‘Blacks’, ‘Mixed people’, ‘Mixed race people’

Ethnicity vs. nationality

Sometimes, an ethnic group can also be a nationality. For example, if we said ‘Chinese people’, how would you tell if we were talking about the Chinese ethnic group or Chinese nationality? The simple answer is, you wouldn’t know, so this is why it’s important to clarify. The same applies to Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani ethnic groups.

Do: ‘people from the Indian ethnic group’

Don’t: ‘Indian people’

Why talking about ethnicity is important

Talking about ethnicity is crucial if we’re going to truly improve diversity and inclusion in clinical trials. So, let’s have a conversation — send us an email at to have a chat with us.

This blog was first published here.

4th June 2021



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