Race, ethnicity, and nationality

When and how to mention race and ethnicity

Background:

Mentioning someone’s race or ethnicity when it isn’t important to the project can seem biased and can portray the characteristic as unusual or different. Because race is a social construct, the terms to describe race change over time as society changes. For example, “Caucasian” was coined by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach to describe what he thought of as a superior race. Because of the term’s racist origins, the American Psychological Association style, among AP style and others, recommends against using it. Beyond its origins and use to reinforce an inaccurate belief in natural racial categorizations, the term, which refers to people from the Caucasus region, is inaccurate as a synonym for “White.”

Racial and ethnic categories are incredibly broad. They include people who have diverse cultures. For example, the term “Asian” is sometimes used in the US as a shorthand for “East Asian” but generally refers to the entire continent of Asia. Being specific is clearer and avoids homogenizing a diverse group.

People have preferences about how their race and ethnicity are described. For example, “Black” and “African American” are not interchangeable. “Black” is a broader term because it includes those who aren’t US citizens and those who identify more with their heritage from a place outside Africa.

Recommendation:

Mention a person’s race or ethnicity only if it is important to the project. Follow people’s preferences on how to describe their race or ethnicity. When a preference between “Black” and “African American” is not known, generally use “Black” instead of “African American.” Similarly, follow a person’s preference in using “Native American” or “American Indian,” and use a specific nation’s name when possible. Do not use “Caucasian” as a synonym for “White.” Be appropriately specific. Instead of calling someone Latino or Hispanic, for example, describe them with the specific country—Cuban American or Brazilian American, for instance. But if a study looks at all Hispanic and Latino people, then using that broader categorization would be appropriate.

Examples:

Use:

Michael S. Regan wants to limit the amount of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that companies can emit.

Avoid:

Michael S. Regan, who is Black

Use:

Erick Carreira is the first Latino to head the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Avoid:

Erick Carreira, a Latino, will head


People of color

Background:

Lumping all people of color together under one term erases important differences between groups. In addition, using “people of color” or “person of color” can be seen as a euphemism for specific racial groups, such as Black people, and an empty gesture of solidarity. Recognizing that different races face different struggles and are treated differently is important, just as it is sometimes important to focus on the shared challenges of being marginalized because of race or ethnicity.

Recommendation:

When mentioning race, think about what level of specificity is appropriate. For example, if you are talking about the shared experiences of many people of diverse races and ethnicities who are not White, then “people of color” may be appropriate. But if you are talking about specific racial and ethnic categories, then name them. And avoid using “person of color” to describe a specific individual unless that person wants to be identified that way. Instead, say the person’s race, if that information is necessary. 

Examples:

Use:

After a police officer killed George Floyd, people participated in protests of police brutality against Black people.

Avoid:

against people of color

Use:

In the survey, Hispanic and Asian respondents were the most concerned about the new policy.

Avoid:

people of color were the most concerned

Use:

Professors of color often do more invisible work than their White counterparts. (OK if talking about people of color in general and not a specific racial group.)

Use:

Kamala Harris made history as the first woman of color nominated to be vice president. (In this case, “woman of color” is appropriate because it shows that she is not just the first Black woman to be vice president but the first woman of any race besides White to be nominated.)


Minorities, non-White

Background:

The word “minority” is often inaccurate when used to refer to people of color because that group is sometimes the numerical majority. (Some people use the term “majority minority” to explain that people historically referred to as minorities are now becoming the majority in certain areas, but the term is confusing and unclear.) In addition, “minority” has a connotation of being lesser than; it reinforces the marginalization of people of color. The same issues apply to the term “underrepresented minority,” which many in higher education use to describe people of color whose population in a specialty is lower than that in the broader population. Some people use the term “minoritized” to indicate that a group is treated as inferior. But “marginalized,” a word with the same meaning, is clearer. Some people note that using “marginalized,” “underserved,” and “underrepresented” focuses on people’s powerlessness rather than their assets and their potential and that “underserved” makes an assumption about who is doing the serving. In addition, using words like “oppressed” and “disadvantaged” without additional context may emphasize people’s lack of agency rather than the systems that created inequities. But others say terms like “marginalized” and “racialized” make people aware of unfair systems. For example, people sometimes use “racialized” to indicate that society created racial categories.

The term “non-White” defines people by what they lack instead of what they are. It sets up White as the default, the category that gets to be named, and everyone else as other. The term can also be vague. For example, the US Census Bureau defines “White” as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa,” whereas many people from the Middle East and North Africa may not self-identify as White. And people commonly use “non-White” colloquially to include Hispanic and Latino people, but people can identify as both White and Hispanic, for example. So when discussing survey results or data, more specificity is important.

Recommendation:

When it is necessary to refer to people in broad groups instead of specific racial and ethnic groups, avoid using “minority” and “non-White” to refer to people of color. Acceptable alternatives in addition to “people of color” are “underrepresented racial and ethnic groups” and “marginalized racial and ethnic groups,” depending on your meaning. But use care, as focusing on a lack of power or agency with adjectives like “underserved” and “underrepresented” may further alienate people. Using these words as verbs, however, is appropriate, as in “Institutions continue to underserve students of color.”

“Underrepresented” establishes a comparison (underrepresented in a subpopulation compared with representation in a larger group), so use that term only when a comparison exists and only when people are truly underrepresented (for example, in some sciences, not all people of color are underrepresented). And “underrepresented group” (without specifying which group) can refer to any category of people who are not represented—whether by gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, or another characteristic. So when using “underrepresented,” generally specify the kind of group you are referring to. 

Alternatives to “underrepresented minorities” include “underrepresented people of color” and naming the specific racial and ethnic groups. 

If you must use the term “minority,” specify what kind of minority (e.g., racial, ethnic, gender). Unless a source self-identifies as minoritized, use an alternative, such as “marginalized.” Do not use the term “majority minority.”

Examples:

Use:

“MEP was one of the first higher education programs created to help students from marginalized racial and ethnic groups succeed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)” (C&EN, June 6, 2021).

Avoid:

to help minority students

Use:

ACS Committee on Minority Affairs (official name)

Use:

“In addition to fixing those problems, federal science agencies should start recruiting from a wider array of universities, such as those the US categorizes as minority-serving institutions” (C&EN, March 20, 2021).

Avoid:

such as minority-serving institutions (Although the US government uses the term “minority-serving institution,” leaving it without an editorial comment could make it seem like a term created by the author.)


BIPOC, BAME, POC

Background:

The term “BIPOC” is a noun that stands for “Black, Indigenous, and people of color.” The intent is to center Black and Indigenous people in the fight for racial equity in the US and to highlight the unique forms of oppression they face. Proponents of the term say that it makes Indigenous people more visible, highlights anti-Blackness, and helps avoid homogenizing all people of color. Critics of the term point to confusion over its meaning—separating Black people and Indigenous people from people of color makes it seem as if “people of color” does not include Black and Indigenous people (which may be why some people define the term as “Black, Indigenous, and other people of color”). Others say that the term creates racial hierarchies and is inappropriate as a blanket term, such as when other racial groups should be centered or when talking about people of color outside the US. The term also uses “Black” and “Indigenous” as nouns instead of adjectives (see “Races and ethnicities as adjectives”).

The term “BAME” stands for “Black, Asian, and minority ethnic” and is more common in the UK than the US. “POC” is an abbreviation for “people of color.” 

The terms “Black, Indigenous, and people of color,” “Black, Asian, and minority ethnic,” and “people of color” lump several diverse groups together, reducing individuals with distinct identities to a single, broad category. Shortening these terms to their abbreviations, while a convenient shorthand, reduces clarity for the audience and works against the intent of raising awareness of marginalized groups. When people use “BIPOC” instead of “Black, Indigenous, and people of color,” they don’t take the time to name the groups the term is intended to center. A 2021 statement titled #BAMEOver by Inc Arts UK says, “Collective terminology is necessary: acronyms are not. Nobody wants to be reduced to an acronym. Especially an acronym that is inaccurate.”

Recommendation:

Do not use the abbreviations “BIPOC,” “BAME,” or “POC.” Generally use “people of color” instead of “Black, Indigenous, and people of color” or “Black, Asian, and minority ethnic” when it is necessary to use a broad categorization of people who are not White. When possible, be more specific. (See also “People of color.”)

Example:

Use:

We encourage Black, Latino, and Indigenous people to apply. (If these specific groups are who you are referring to)

Avoid:

BIPOC to apply


Capitalization and spelling of races, ethnicities, and nationalities

Background:

Most races, ethnicities, and nationalities have long been capitalized—words like “Asian American,” “Jamaican,” and “American Indian.” But until recently, most mainstream style guides had recommended lowercasing “White” and “Black,” seeing them as colors and not proper nouns. Now, in a shift prompted in large part by the murder of George Floyd and the resulting reckoning with race in the US, most style guides recommend capitalizing “Black” in recognition of and respect for the shared history and culture of many Black people. This change follows a style decision that publications serving Black communities, like Essence, Ebony, and the Chicago Defender, took years ago. For similar reasons of respect and recognition of shared identity, the words “Native” and “Indigenous” are capitalized when referring to Indigenous people.

Style guides differ in their decision to capitalize “White.” Some, like the AP Stylebook, do not capitalize the word because they don’t think White people have the same kind of shared identity that Black people do. Others point to the use of the capitalized “White” by White supremacists. In contrast, proponents of the capitalized “White” say that capitalizing it forces White people to see themselves as racialized and confront their privilege. In addition, proponents say, capitalizing “White” avoids making it look like a neutral standard. In response to the criticism that capitalizing “White” aligns with White supremacists’ use, Kwame Anthony Appiah says in a 2020 Atlantic article, “If the capitalization of white became standard among anti-racists, the supremacists’ gesture would no longer be a provocative defiance of the norm and would lose all force.” 

Hyphenating dual heritages, such as “Asian American,” can show bias by implying that people do not fully belong to one group (in this example, are not fully American). The hyphen also recalls Theodore Roosevelt’s use of “hyphenated Americans” to disparage immigrants and Woodrow Wilson’s suspicion of “any man who carries a hyphen.”

Recommendation:

Capitalize “Black” and “White” when referring to races. Capitalize “Indigenous” when referring to people and culture. Capitalize “Native” when referring to an Indigenous ethnicity. Do not hyphenate races or ethnicities.

Examples:

Use:

We are highlighting the work of historically Black colleges and universities.

Avoid:

historically black colleges and universities

Use:

He is a Native Hawaiian.

Avoid:

native Hawaiian (“Native Hawaiian” and “Hawaiian” refer to the Indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands. As writer Stephanie Launiu explains in a 2021 WanderWisdom article, “Hawaiians are not named for the state (think Californians, New Yorkers, Texans, etc). Unlike these other states, Hawai'i is named after its native people. Living in Hawai'i doesn't make you Hawaiian, it makes you a resident of Hawai'i.”)

Use:

She is a native New Yorker.

Avoid:

Native New Yorker (“Native” in this context does not refer to an Indigenous people as a racial or ethnic group; it refers instead to people born in a place.)

Use:

Researchers interviewed Asian American and Native American students.

Avoid:

Asian-American and Native-American students


Races and ethnicities as adjectives

Background:

Defining people by a single characteristic like race, a social construct, minimizes other parts of their identities. Using the racial descriptors “Black” and “White” as nouns is usually considered offensive. Other words for races and ethnicities, like “Asian” and “Latino,” are commonly used as both nouns and adjectives.

Recommendation:

When referring to race, use “Black” and “White” as adjectives, not nouns, even if you are facing space constraints (a recommendation counter to AP). Other terms, like “Asian,” “Latino,” and “Native American,” may be nouns or adjectives. Do not use “the” before a plural noun used to describe race (e.g., use “Asian people” or “Asians,” not “the Asians”). See also “Avoid labeling people by a characteristic.”

Example:

Use:

“The differences in educational debts owed across genders were smaller for Asian and Black students than for Hispanic, White, and White Hispanic students” (J. Chem. Educ. 2021, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.1c00352).

Avoid:

Blacks than for Hispanics, Whites, and White Hispanics


Brown

Background:

The term “Brown” as a categorization of race is controversial because it has no clear definition. It is seemingly used to refer to any person of color who is not Black, but some people of color, such as some East Asians, do not identify as Brown. “‘Brown’ has been used to describe such a disparate range of people—Latin, Indigenous, Asian, Middle Eastern—that the meaning is often unclear to readers,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, and Phil Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards at the New York Times, write in a note on why the Times capitalizes “Black.”

Recommendation:

Avoid using “Brown” as a racial descriptor for groups. Instead, specify the groups you are referring to. If someone identifies as Brown and it is important to mention their race, then capitalize it.

Example:

Use:

 “COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black and Latino people” (C&EN, May 28, 2021).

Avoid:

affected Black and Brown people


Hispanic, Latino, Latinx

Background:

“Hispanic” generally refers to people of Spanish-speaking origin, whereas “Latina” and “Latino” refer to people of Latin American origin. The terms aren’t interchangeable, although there is some overlap. For example, people from Brazil who do not speak Spanish may identify as Latino, not Hispanic. And people from Spain may identify as Hispanic, not Latino.

Several gender-neutral terms for “Latino” have arisen. These include “Latin@,” “Latine” (pluralized as “Latines”), and “Latinx.” There is a lot of disagreement over the use of “Latinx:” only a small percentage of Hispanic people use “Latinx,” according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2019, and some view the term as a form of linguistic imperialism. But some see “Latinx” as a positive movement to be more inclusive. Similarly, some people use “Chicanx,” “Chican@,” or “Chicane” as gender-neutral alternatives to “Chicano” or “Chicana,” which refer to Americans of Mexican descent.

Note that “Hispanic” and “Latino” are generally defined as ethnicities and can thus include people of various races.

Recommendation:

Use whichever term the individual or group you are referring to prefers. Be specific when possible—for example, “Puerto Rican” or “Brazilian.” If a source prefers gender-neutral terms such as “Latin American,” “Latine,” “Latinx,” or “Chicanx,” use them. But otherwise use “Latinos,” “Hispanic people,” or “Chicanos” to refer to mixed-gender groups.

Examples:

Use:

“The American Chemical Society was among the dozen sponsors of LatinXChem” (C&EN, Sept. 24, 2020). (LatinXChem is the formal name.)

Use:

Latinas and Hispanic women, who are 13.7% of women in the U.S. population, hold 5.8% of science Ph.D. degrees” (Anal. Chem. 2021, DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.1c00887).


When and how to mention nationality and locations

Background:

Someone’s nationality—their membership of a nation—does not always match their current location. Immigrants and refugees, visitors, and students and workers on visas, among others, may have a nationality different from the country where they live or work. And the country of one’s birth does not define nationality, because people can become citizens of another country. Furthermore, migrants’ nationality may not always match the country they’re leaving. For example, not all people crossing the US-Mexico border are from Mexico, so describing all such people as “Mexican immigrants” would be inaccurate. 

Beyond the legal and technical requirements of citizenship and nationality, people may have a separate national identity—a sense of belonging to a nation. For example, an immigrant to the US from China may identify as Chinese, Chinese American, American, or another nationality. Also, because a country’s boundaries may be imperfect or arbitrary, national identity may not be attached to a recognized nation. For example, a person might identify as Kurdish, reside in Iraq, and hold Syrian citizenship or be considered stateless. And a person might have Israeli citizenship but identify as Palestinian.

Mentioning nationality when it is not relevant could imply that you’re making a statement about someone’s nationality—for instance, that you’re attributing someone’s behavior or personality to their nationality. Nationality might be relevant, however, if it provides context for what a person or group is legally able to do.

Similarly, unnecessary or imbalanced mentions of geographic location can reveal biases. Giving the location of only non-US universities, for example, implies that the US universities are more well known and thus don’t need to be identified by place. In addition, giving different levels of specificity for place-names in the same context can seem insensitive. For example, listing “Africa” along with several countries implies that Africa is a country instead of a continent.

Recommendation:

Mention someone’s nationality only if that information is relevant and accurate. Do not conflate citizenship with national identity. Respect how people want to be identified (e.g., they may identify more with their national identity than their citizenship). Mention geographic location of a person, group, or organization only when that information provides useful context. When mentioning several place-names together, generally give the same level of specificity.

Examples:

Use:

The professor emigrated from Iran to the US 10 years ago after securing a professorship. 

Avoid:

The Iranian immigrant has lived in the US for 10 years since securing her professorship.

Use:

Researchers in China have broken the record for solar panel efficiency. (If location is necessary; if not, just “Researchers”)

Avoid:

Chinese researchers (This language implies that all the researchers are Chinese. Even though all work in China, they may not all be Chinese.)

Use:

The company established sites in Canada, Sweden, and Chile.

Avoid:

sites in Canada, Sweden, and Latin America


When and how to mention immigration status

Background:

Mentioning that someone is an immigrant, refugee, or other migrant when that information is not relevant to the rest of the project can seem to connect someone’s migratory status to their actions or can imply that you see them first as a migrant, not a person with many other characteristics. In addition, revealing that someone is an immigrant or refugee may create an unsafe situation for them.  

Legal demands of immigrants in all countries are constantly changing, so depending on when and where a person migrated, an individual’s legal immigration status can be nuanced. Describing an unauthorized or undocumented immigrant as “illegal” glosses over these legal nuances. It is also disrespectful because it refers to an entire person instead of an action as illegal. 

Some phrases, such as “anchor baby” and “chain migration,” assume that people are intentionally trying to take unfair advantage of immigration systems. These phrases, along with “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien,” were introduced and are used by political groups to serve their agendas and are often a coded way of describing immigrants of color. In addition, “alien” is problematic because it is dehumanizing. Negative labels such as these can foster prejudice.

Recommendation:

Mention that someone is a migrant or their immigration status only if it is relevant, the fact has been confirmed, and the person approves publication of the fact. Do not use the term “illegal immigrants,” “illegal aliens,” “aliens,” or “illegals.” Instead, use terms that are legally accurate and respectful, like “unauthorized immigrants,” “undocumented immigrants” (if accurate), or “noncitizen.” In Europe, a common alternative to “illegal immigration” is “irregular immigration.” Do not use terms like “anchor baby” and “chain migration.” Instead, use objective and legally accurate phrases. For example, instead of “anchor baby,” use “citizen child of undocumented immigrants” (if accurate), and instead of “chain migration,” use “family-based immigration.” In all cases, it may be more accurate and clearer to describe people’s actions rather than use a label for their status.

Examples:

Use:

 “Undocumented immigrants’ ineligibility for public benefits means they cannot access the diagnostically based Medicare entitlement for hemodialysis” (JAMA Intern. Med. 2017, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.8865).

Avoid:

Illegal immigrants’ ineligibility

Use:

The community demographics shifted dramatically in the 2010s because residents applied for family-based immigrant visas.

Avoid:

because of chain migration

Use:

She immigrated in 1999 and overstayed her 2-year student visa.

Avoid:

She became an undocumented immigrant in 2001.


Resources on inclusive language for race, ethnicity, and nationality