Universities Scotland

Race Equality Toolkit

Learning and Teaching

Appendix 3


Fear of getting it wrong or offending can cause confusion as to what are acceptable terms to use. There are terms such as “coloured”, “Paki” and “Chinky” which are now well known to be offensive, displaying insensitivity and ignorance on the part of the speaker.

However, it has to be remembered that terms are evolving and developing all the time and what is in common use at a particular time may be seen to be unacceptable at another point in time. For example, the term “negro” would in the twenty-first century be considered an inappropriate term to use but Dr Martin Luther King Jr used the term in many of his speeches in the early 1960s when the term was common parlance.

Some terms in common use within equality and race equality discourse are offered to encourage discussion and debate rather than to be prescriptive.


Refers to an approach that is taken which challenges unfair treatment of individuals or groups based on a specific characteristic of that group, e.g. colour, age, disability etc.


A general term describing an activity, event, policy or organisation combating racism in any form.

Anti-racist education

An educational approach that seeks to

  • explicitly address the existence and workings of racism;
  • help students to understand and deal with racism, prejudice and stereotyping;
  • go beyond multicultural education (recognising culture and difference), to deal with issues of power, justice and inequality;
  • challenge racism at all levels — personal, cultural, and institutional.

Bilingual students are those who function in more than one language in their daily lives. The term “bilingual” emphasises that students already have one language and that English is a second or additional language. The term does not imply an equal or specified level of fluency in two or more languages.


This is a term that has undergone considerable change and development since the 1950s. As several different meanings are currently in use, it should be used with caution and understanding.

The North American Civil Rights Movement challenged the term’s earlier negative connotations and redefined it to refer to those peoples who suffered from and struggled against white racism, and whose cause was justice and equality.

“Black” replaced the derogatory terminology applied to African-Americans such as “negro” or “nigger” and gained positive connotations for its users.

In Britain, including Scotland, there has been an attempt to use this socio-political meaning to unite the victims of racism (whatever the specific gradation of their skin colour, or their geographical or ethnic origins) in opposition to its perpetuation and effects.

Additionally, there has also been a desire from visible minority ethnic peoples to self-define themselves, including being defined as members of groups distinguished by ethnicity, nationality or religion.

In recent years “black“ has been used less often in this all-encompassing sense, being replaced by such terms as “black and Asian“, “black and ethnic minority“, “black/minority ethnic“.

The term is still used in its broad ideological, inclusive sense but is increasingly used to refer to people of African and Caribbean origin.

The term “black” has recently been challenged by some African communities in Scotland as being particularly divisive and unhelpful. This relates to the way classifications have been used within the 2001 Census. Currently classifications are confused, with some ethnic groups being categorised under “colour” as in “Black African/Black Caribbean” and other ethnic groups such as Asians being categorised not under colour codes but according to national origins such as “Indian/Bangladeshi/Pakistani”.

Black minority ethnic (BME)

A term used to describe people from minority groups, particularly those who are viewed as having suffered racism or are in the minority because of their skin colour and/or ethnicity. This term has evolved over time becoming more common as the term “black” has become less all-inclusive of those experiencing racial discrimination. “BME” was/is an attempt at comprehensive coverage. The term is commonly used in the UK but can be unpopular with those who find it cumbersome or bureaucratic.


This term is used in Scotland (and elsewhere in the UK and North America) as an alternative to more derogatory names for visible minority ethnic peoples. This usage is now outdated, though it is a term that is still fairly commonly employed. The term tends to suggest that, in the user’s view, ”colour“ is an attribute possessed by all skin types other than white and can therefore be used as an identifier for “non-white” people. Today such usage tends to cause offence, or, at best, to indicate a naive or patronising approach in a multi-ethnic environment. A common term used in North America to denote all non-white people is “people of colour”. This term is not perceived as derogatory and aims to be inclusive of non-white people as well as people of mixed parentage and ancestry.


The symbolic and expressive aspects of human behaviour.

The total range of social values, beliefs and behaviours of an identifiable group of people with a shared background and traditions which influence and characterise members of that group’s or society’s core outlooks and activities. As such, culture is often used as a group identifier, by the group itself or by non-members. Where “culture” is employed in “racial” contexts its focus often tends to be on specific customs, beliefs and practices which distinguish a group or people in a minority, stereotypic or exotic sense, for example, in such fields as religion, social mores, or relations between the sexes or generations. In recent years, minority cultures have been used by some to cause division by portraying them as threats to majority cultures (them versus us) and yet in other areas multiculturalism has been welcomed, celebrated and shared.

Culture is often closely linked to race and ethnicity and is affected by the hierarchical and confusing environment in which such terms are employed. For instance the “culture” of an identified grouping may be simultaneously acknowledged in positive and negative ways, e.g. as an indication of identity and solidarity and as a set of archaic characteristics with outdated and/or undesirable effects. In some cases culture is equated with residual or fictional tradition, as when Scots are portrayed as kilt-wearing haggis-eaters. When used negatively, “culture” tends to have over-simplified, patronising or reductionist connotations and is much more commonly applied to identified minorities, for example African, Asian or Jewish people, than to the white, undifferentiated “majority”. Everyone has a culture as a result of his or her life and social experience. People from similar backgrounds may not describe their “culture” as being the same. Cultures include varieties of people and social groupings which tend to interpret their environment in varied ways and which adapt and change over time. Culture is a complex and dynamic phenomenon. For this reason, most cultures are in a state of change and development, and are affected and influenced by other cultures.


Where prejudices and stereotypes are converted from belief or thought to action. Racial discrimination is the treating of a particular group of people, or individuals belonging to that group, less favourably than others on grounds of their supposed race, colour, nationality, or ethnic or national origins.

In Britain, the Race Relations Act (1976) and its Amendment (2000) make both direct and indirect discrimination illegal. The Equality Act 2010 provides new common definitions for direct and indirect discrimination. The definitions below are taken from the Equality Act 2010.

Direct discrimination

A person discriminates against another if, because of a protected characteristic1, that person treats the other less favourably than they treat or would treat others. An example would be where prospective Asian buyers of a house are denied the right to purchase it on the basis of their “race”.

Indirect discrimination

A person discriminates against another if they apply to another a provision, criterion or practice which is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of the other person(s). An example would be not addressing a “sub-culture”/long-established practice of conducting informal course-related meetings in the university union bar, thus excluding those who avoid places where alcohol is sold and consumed.


A variety of something such as opinion, colour, or style. When used to promote social inclusiveness, this term is often used to mean diversity within society of colour, culture, gender, sexual orientation, ability, socio-economic status, type of area (urban/rural), age, faith and/or beliefs.


The state of being equal. In an education context, this concept might offer students equal access and rights but might not take into consideration the additional steps required in order to enable better equality of outcome. See also the term “Equity”.

Equal opportunities

A descriptive term for an approach intended to give equal access to an environment or benefits or equal treatment for all. For example, access to education, employment, health care or social welfare to members of various social groups, some of which might otherwise suffer from discrimination.


Equity is the quality of being impartial or fair. For treatment to be fair, issues of diversity need to be taken into account so that the different needs and requirements of individuals are met. An equitable approach in education is one that identifies and takes account of difference in fairly distributing time and resources, and impartially assessing outcomes. In equitable terms educational achievement should be an inclusive rather than an exclusive goal.


“Ethnic” means “relating to or characteristic of a human group having certain key features in common”. It is derived from the Greek “ethnos” meaning a (non-Greek) “race” or people.

Though apparently neutral at one level of definition, “ethnic” as a term does, in practice, in such phrases as “ethnic food”, “ethnic music” or “ethnic clothes”, imply a condition of being non-normative, foreign or quaint. It may also suggest a lack of sophistication or a tendency to the parochial in, for example, “ethnic literature”. In extreme situations the idea of “ethnicity” has been used to justify genocide as “ethnic cleansing”.

According to the House of Lords (Mandla v Dowell Lee, House of Lords, 1983) an ethnic group would have the following features:

  • a long shared history of which the group is conscious as distinguishing it from other groups and the memory of which it keeps alive;
  • a cultural tradition of its own including family and social manners, often but not necessarily associated with religious observance;
  • a common, however distant, geographical origin;
  • a common language and literature.

The term “ethnic” is much more commonly applied to minority or marginalised groups than to the ways of the perceived majority population. The fact that every person has an ethnic identity is often overlooked.

Ethnic minority

The term “ethnic minority” is mainly used to denote people who are in the minority within a defined population on the grounds of “race”, colour, culture, language or nationality. In the past, those referred to as “ethnic minorities” were mainly identified as those groups of people who have come from the “new commonwealth” to live in the country since the 1950s, that is, visible minorities. The term was less associated with the many “ethnic minorities” from England and Europe who settled in Scotland before and since the 1950s. Currently the term is used increasingly to capture all who have arrived to live and/or work in Scotland, including, for example, migrant workers.

The use of the concept “ethnic minority” can legitimise the social, political and economic marginalisation of the groups concerned from the mainstream of society and its institutions. It can also suggest a population characterised by division rather than by ethnic diversity, while implying that the majority is undifferentiated in its customs, outlook and access to power and influence. As a term to be used in the comparative study of “race” and ethnic relations, the concept of minority as being synonymous with being oppressed is a liability, since many numerical minorities have been politically dominant and economically privileged (as white people were in South Africa). Nearly all colonies of European powers, for example, have at times, been ruled by small minorities of the total population. Government documents and those involved in the work of race equality tend to use the term “minority ethnic” instead of “ethnic minority”. Both terms are in common usage and are generally acceptable.

See also the term “minority ethnic”.


The act of including or the state of being included. This has to go beyond physical inclusion to inclusion at social, cultural and institutional levels.

Inclusive curriculum

An inclusive curriculum is one which recognises the diversity of learners and proactively considers and understands the backgrounds and preferred learning styles of students. Within a race equality framework, an inclusive curriculum would be culturally responsive and would capitalise on students’ cultural backgrounds rather than ignoring or negating them. An inclusive curriculum would also demand that attention is given to the complexities of working within diversities e.g. the need for clear communication and the use of forms of expression within classrooms where there are likely to be learners for whom English is an additional language, the need to establish ground rules to outline behavioural and language expectations, establishing methods of working to assist promotion of positive social and learning relationships, explaining and clarifying academic expectations and standards. To read more about culturally inclusive practice, see La Trobe University’s Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Practice Toolkit


Mainstreaming is “the systematic integration of an equality perspective … [which] tackles structures, behaviours and attitudes that contribute to or sustain inequality and discrimination“ (Scottish Government).

Mainstreaming requires:

  • leadership commitment
  • an understanding that inequalities exist;
  • an acknowledgement that discrimination is occurring;
  • a willingness to take action to prevent and reduce the occurrence and to redress the consequences of discrimination.

For a list of benefits of adoping the principles and processes of mainstreaming equality, see the Scottish Government statements on mainstreaming.

In education, the term “mainstreaming” is often associated with integration of special needs pupils into mainstream schools. However, the definition and practice within Scotland, UK and Europe is much wider than this.

For even more information about mainstreaming, visit the Scottish Government portal on Mainstreaming Equalities

Minority ethnic

In recent years, attempts have been made to acknowledge that ethnicity is a characteristic of all individuals and groups, majorities and minorities alike. In the past the term “ethnic minority” tended to suggest that the minority or marginalised status of such a group arose from its “possession” of ethnicity itself, rather than to the low value ascribed to its particular ethnicity in the wider, “majority” cultural/ethnic environment.

The use of “minority ethnic” as an alternative term goes only some way towards improving matters. It draws attention to the commonality of ethnicity and indicates that it is the non-inclusion of particular types of ethnicity which results in minority (i.e. relatively powerless) status. However, it remains a code for “visible minorities” rather than minorities in general (e.g. Gaelic-speakers or adherents to the Catholic faith).

Sometimes documents will use the term “minority ethnic” instead of “ethnic minority”. The switch in the use of the terms has had some impact mainly among people aware of the issues, but the use of the term is not yet widespread, particularly with the general public, and is sometimes a cause of confusion. In line with other government resources and documents, this resource adopts the use of the term “minority ethnic”.

Multicultural education

This is an educational approach which positively seeks to acknowledge diversity in culture, faith, language and ethnicity in relation to school ethos, curriculum and home-school-community partnerships.

The term “intercultural” is sometimes used to mean the same. The term “intercultural” is more frequently used in mainland Europe.

Positive action

This is an approach, particularly applicable in the employment field, which is allowed in the Race Relations Act (1976) and within the amended Act of 2000 as a limited means of delivering for race equality. For example, where low representation of minority ethnic people is identified in a particular area of employment or work status, employers are enabled and encouraged to take action through advertising, training and induction courses to increase minority ethnic participation.

When it comes to the filling of a particular post, however, the appointment must be made on merit rather than on the basis of “racial” background. The effects of positive action take much longer to impact on an organisation than do those based on positive discrimination (which is illegal in Britain). Positive discrimination measures tend to engender much more opposition from those traditionally favoured by biased employment practices (for example, where it is practised in North America).

Positive discrimination

This term refers to a process which seeks to redress the under-representation of defined “racial” groups in particular occupations, status groups (for example, managers) and courses by skewing competition for scarce opportunities in favour of minority ethnic candidates, providing they possess the required qualifications.

This measure is illegal in Britain and is under increasing attack in many North American states where it is known as “affirmative action”. The roots of positive discrimination lie in the Civil Rights Movement, one strand of which drew attention to the degree to which black people and other minorities were excluded from broad areas of employment and promotion in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.

In response to such criticism and to many campaigns by minority ethnic people on these issues a number of states and departments of the Federal Government legislated in favour of positive discrimination. The US laws applied not only to employment but to access to education and training opportunities.

In practice the positive bias towards majority/white people is, through affirmative action, temporarily reversed until some form of representative balance is achieved. Whatever the social justice basis of positive discrimination, its effects in some fields have been significant and relatively rapid. However, it has had little impact on those at the lower end of the social scale, and in various states affirmative action measures were repealed in the 1990s.


This is a controversial term, which comes from historical attempts to categorise people according to their skin colour and physical characteristics. The word has no scientific basis for divisions into biologically determined groups. Individuals, not “races”, are the main sources of human variation. It is, however, in everyday use and is enshrined in legislation in the Race Relations Acts. The word “race” is used with quotation marks by some authors as an acknowledgement that it is a controversial and contested term.


As distinct from racism, the term racialism is sometimes used (though less commonly now) to refer to an active belief system, and its associated behaviours, based on the primacy of racial difference in the human experience. This perspective is founded on a belief in the fixed nature of races and in their differential status and value. Racialism has often historically been used as a rationale for colonial or imperial oppression at times where people from one part of the world have conquered others elsewhere.


Broadly used to refer to the ideology of superiority of a particular race over another. This notion of superiority is then applied to and embedded in structures, practices, attitudes, beliefs and processes of a social grouping which then serve to further perpetuate and transmit this ideology. Racism appears in several, often interrelated, forms, e.g. personal, cultural, and institutional.

Personal racism

This refers to the negative/antagonistic thoughts, feelings and actions which characterise the outlook and behaviour of racially prejudiced individuals. It may also refer to the effects of such perspectives and activity on those against whom they are directed. Personal racism can have a significant effect on reproducing inequalities, particularly if the individual concerned is in a position of power. Personal racism can be open and explicit or covert and implicit.

People who are personally racist and who hold positions of power and influence, e.g. (head) teachers or managers, may have considerable negative impact on those against whom they act out their prejudices. Examples of personal racism include:

  • being racially abusive/harassing;
  • engaging in physical attacks;
  • allowing personal assumptions, prejudices or stereotypes on racial issues to influence decisions regarding recruitment and selection of staff or students;
  • condoning a culture which tolerates racist language and jokes in the workplace.

Most people engage in personal racism without realising that they are doing so. For example, making assumptions that all Middle Eastern male students prefer male lecturers might impact on how a student from that background is initially received or treated.

Cultural racism

This occurs when a particular culture perceives itself as superior to others. When such a culture can impose its values on others (e.g. via curriculum content, attitudes, or control of what is transmitted as real knowledge) then systematic cultural racism can take place. The dominant culture then imposes its patterns, assumptions and values on others often in a manner that many do not even notice. This becomes the “commonsense culture” that is taken for granted as part of everyday life’s norms and leads to continuation of practices which purposely or inadvertently put up barriers to full inclusion just because “things have always been done this way”.

An example is in the use of language as a way in which one cultural group can impose itself on another with discriminatory outcomes. In Scotland it has often been argued that using words like “coloured”, “Paki” or “Chinky” is not discriminatory, as they are part of the Scottish vernacular. Yet these terms are commonly regarded by minority ethnic groups as offensive and derogatory. However, challenging these terms in Scotland continues to be met with resistance by some people, or the subject is treated as trivial. This is an example of how language as a cultural expression is used to perpetuate cultural racism. Multicultural or intercultural education/cultural diversity programmes are often a response to addressing cultural racism.

Institutional racism

The common definition for institutional racism now used across the UK is derived from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report written by Lord Macpherson. The Macpherson Report defines institutional racism as

the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. It persists because of the failure of the organisation openly and adequately to recognise and address its existence and causes by policy, example and leadership.

Macpherson, W. (1999) The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Report of an Inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, London: Stationery Office, Chapter 6, para. 6:34

An example of institutional racism would be a university or department that consistently refuses to consider matters of race equality on the basis that it is not an issue, and takes no action to promote race equality or address racism. Anti-racist education and training is often a response to addressing institutional racism.


The term used to describe the skin colour of the inhabitants of Europe and their emigrant populations. It is literally inaccurate but has connotations of power, sophistication and progress, for example, “white civilisation”. The classification depends upon a racialised and hierarchical division of the world’s human population. The roots of this differentiation were expressed in European imperial expansion. “White” has a less positive connotation when linked with racism or supremacy.


An irrational fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture.

  1. Protected characteristics include race, sex, pregnancy and maternity, gender reassignment, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion or belief.