Talking about race


In the past several decades, there has been an uptick in identifying with ethnic history, for example, pride in one’s country or culture of origin, instead of just being “white” or “black”. But there has also been a revival of outdated theories of race being biologically determined and attached to certain traits, including considering all people from one race to be prone to certain traits or behaviours i.e. stereotyping and prejudice. Regardless of how people identify themselves, first acknowledge that race, along with racism and racial discrimination, continues to be a complex topic for discussion and debate.


Just as the concept of race has a long and complex history, there are indeed different perspectives race-related issues across the world – often referred to as the racial narrative. This is a reflection of how histories operate in different contexts around the world. Terminology around race and ethnicity like privilege, microaggressions, and intersectionality also evolves and varies significantly from country to country as a result of legal and cultural histories. This complexity around language can sometimes create barriers that may inhibit productive conversations about race. It is important to be familiar with the current terminology, however, if in doubt, be guided by the ‘platinum rule’, that is, treat people the way they would like to be treated, and ask.

In the UK, the collective term most widely used to describe non-white people is “Ethnic Minorities”. Economists and politicians often use the term BAME which stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic to include:

  • Black/Black British (African or Caribbean)
  • Asian – Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi,
  • Chinese and all other Asian backgrounds
  • Mixed Race
  • Arab


It is vital to approach the topic of race with respect. Respect for its weightiness and nuance. Respect for centuries of pain and oppression. Respect for multiple perspectives and narratives. Starting from a respectful place – one that is open and willing to listen and learn – goes a long way to establishing open and meaningful dialogue. Be prepared to examine your motivation and put aside your preconceptions. Recognize and acknowledge the validity and reality of other people’s lived experiences.


Find out what you don’t know about racial inequalities. Seek to develop a strong understanding of the history of race, and the differences between race, ethnicity and nationality. While developing a good understanding of race will require a combination of individual and group learning, we can all still accomplish a lot individually through offline and online resources. The resources section has a collection of articles, reports, books, academic studies, webinars, and videos just waiting to be discovered.


One easy way to start internalising what you hear and what you learn about race is by identifying whatever race-based bias you might implicitly hold. We all have an implicit racial bias – what will make the difference is acknowledging these biases and working to deconstruct them. Acknowledge the history of race-based privilege. Seek to understand yourself, others, and the situations at hand, and then move forward as an ally with empathy to make a positive difference in your communities.