Ethnicity, Place of Origin and Race

While the guidelines altogether are a living document and will evolve to reflect cultural changes, this is particularly true for language regarding ethnicity, place of origin and race. The Communications team continues to monitor research and trends in this space, while also consulting with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Health Equity teams. These entries in particular will adapt as perspectives on how to best use language to advance equity change.

The general rule is to be as specific as possible.

  • Someone who is Black may not be “African American,” which refers to people of African descent who categorize themselves as from the U.S. Even if they currently live in the U.S., a Black person might be from the Caribbean or Latin America or elsewhere, so they might not consider themselves to be “American.”
  • Africa is the second-largest continent after Asia and contains many different countries. Do not use “Africa” as a catch-all term when the content in question refers to a specific African country.
  • American Indian” and “Native American” are both acceptable terms to refer to Indigenous people in the U.S.
    • Do not use “Indian,” which refers to people from the country of India, as shorthand for American Indian or Native American.
  • Asian” is a broad term that encompasses people from many different nations. Likewise, “Asian American” is a broad term that may not be the most accurate. Use caution and be as specific as possible. Other acceptable and common distinctions can include the following general terms:
    • South Asian” (from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and more);
    • East Asian” (from China, Japan, Hong Kong, North Korea, South Korea and more);
    • Southeast Asian” (from Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and more).
  • Black” as a description of race is always capitalized, as the term refers to a distinct group of people who have shared experiences.
  • Chicano/a/x” refers to people of Mexican descent born in or living in the United States. They identify explicitly as not Hispanic, Latino, Spanish or European.
  • Dual heritages do not take hyphens: African American, Asian American, etc.
  • Global majority” is an inclusive term used to reflect the demographic majority of the planet: people who are not White. The term simultaneously identifies the reality of the majority population in the globe and recognizes that people of color are not a “minority.”
  • Hawaiian” is an ethnic group — people who are of Polynesian descent — not a term for residency akin to “Texan.” When referring to a person who is not part of the ethnic group but lives in Hawaii, use “islander” or “Hawaii resident.”
  • Hispanic” refers to people who speak Spanish and/or are descended from Spanish-speaking populations (includes all of Latin America except Brazil).
    • Keep in mind that this term carries the connotation of the history of colonization and is sometimes seen as a term that erases the role or existence of Indigenous populations in Spanish-speaking countries outside of Europe. There are many Indigenous people from Spanish-speaking countries who do not identify with Spanish culture and do not speak the dominant language. Therefore, ensure that “Hispanic” truly is the most accurate term for your subject matter.
  • Indigenous” is a term that refers to people who originally inhabited a place. Examples include “Native American” (in the U.S.), “Māori” (in New Zealand), “Aboriginal” (in Australia) and “First Nations” (in Canada). Capitalize “Indigenous” when referring to people.
  • Latinx” is a gender-neutral term for people of Latin American descent that has seen increased usage in recent years. It can be used in both singular and plural senses to replace “Latino” or “Latina.” It refers to a person’s ethnicity, origin or ancestry, but not race. A Latinx person can be any race or color.
  • Latin American” is a broad term that refers to people from Mexico, Central America, parts of the West Indies and any countries in South America, including Brazil.
  • Middle Eastern” is a broad term that refers to people from many different nations. Use caution and be as specific as possible.
  • Pacific Islander” is a specific U.S. Census term that refers to people who are Fijian, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Northern Mariana Islander, Palauan, Samoan, Tahitian and Tongan.
  • People of color” is an umbrella term for people who are not White or of European parentage. It is sometimes abbreviated to “POC.” Be specific if you are referring to one racial group.
    • Meanwhile, “BIPOC” is an abbreviation for “Black, Indigenous and people of color.” This abbreviation centers the specific relationships that Black and Indigenous people have to Whiteness in the U.S.
  • Undocumented immigrant” is a neutral term that describes someone’s immigration status. Never use “illegal immigrant” — actions are illegal, people are not.
  • White” as a description of race is always capitalized, as the term refers to a distinct group of people with shared experiences.