Diversity Guide – Race and Ethnicity

Under the Equality Act 2010, the Protected Characteristic of Race means: A person’s skin colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin. Race/ethnicity includes White British people, but Asian, Black and other ethnically diverse people are more likely to experience racial prejudice and discrimination.


Language evolves and this page is regularly reviewed.

Descriptions / classifications are helpful for monitoring purposes and to talk about shared experiences or racism and racial inequalities. Like many people and organisations, we have moved away from the terms “BAME” and “minority” and instead are (currently) using the following preferred terms when talking about people collectively who are not White or not White British:

  • Asian, Black and other ethnically diverse people.
  • Ethnically diverse people.

Ethnic groups under these umbrella terms can include:

  • Arabs
  • Asian or Asian British people
  • Black or Black British people
  • People of mixed heritage
  • Roma, Gypsies and Travellers

Such groupings can also sometimes include people who are ‘other White’ e.g. White Irish, Australian, French, Polish etc., or this may be reported on separately.

Categories of ethnicity are usually determined by the Census. People can self-select the ethnic origin they feel they identify with most of all.

It is worth noting that within any umbrella term such as ‘ethnically diverse people’ or ‘Asian’ there is huge diversity. For example, Asia covers East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan etc), South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc) and Southeast Asia (Philippines, Thailand etc.).

Some people dislike being defined by their colour or ethnicity as this highlights difference and racialises people. However, ethnic groupings are useful for monitoring, discussing and addressing racial discrimination and inequalities. Care should therefore be taken over when it is appropriate and relevant to define people by their ethnicity. The same could be said for other diversity characteristics.

The term Black is often used as a political term that acknowledges the oppression or exploitation Black-African and other ethnic groups have experienced through colonialism, slavery, or racism – whether that is ignorance, avoidance, hate crime, harassment or exclusion because of skin colour, national or ethnic origin. Some people use “people of colour”, but this shouldn’t be confused with the term “coloured” which is considered a racial slur and unacceptable.

‘Minority ethnic’ or ‘ethnic minorities’ on its own should be avoided as globally, and in some districts in the UK, Black and Asian people are not a minority. The term ‘minority’ can also give the impression of being marginal or less important.

These ethnic groups are also nationalities:

  • Bangladeshi
  • Chinese
  • Indian
  • Pakistani

If there’s a risk of mistaking ethnicities for nationalities, use:

  • ‘people with Indian ethnicity / heritage’, not ‘Indian people’
  • ‘pupils with Chinese ethnicity / heritage’, not ‘Chinese pupils’.

Finally, check how individual people would like to be described.

What do we mean by ‘race’ and ‘culture’?

‘Race’ is a social construct and not a biological fact as explained in this BBC Video. Race covers: nationality (for example, British), national origin (for example, English), skin colour and ethnicity or ‘ethnic origin’. Ethnic origin is defined by a shared history/ancestry, language, or distinctive shared culture. Nationality is determined by what is on your passport (British) and national origin is the country where you were born (English).

Ethnic groups have been defined through equality case law and Census classification and can include: Pakistani, Black American, Irish Traveller, Roma/Romany Gypsies, Chinese, White British, Jews and Sikhs.

Muslims are not a racial group but religion/belief and ethnicity can overlap because religions often have a geographic pattern to them.

We tend to use the term ‘culture’ when talking about broader aspects of ethnicity and religion/belief. Culture can include values, behaviours, practices and preferences (diet, expression, fashion, leisure etc.) and these can be influenced directly or indirectly by religion/belief as well as laws and customs of a country. This is why we talk more about ‘cultural competence’ rather than ‘racial competence’. Many people have a mixed heritage and there can be different cultures and sub-cultures within nationalities and faiths. The reality therefore is quite complex and a key message is:

It’s OK to be curious because this means you won’t jump to conclusions and make assumptions about people, which can lead to prejudice.

What’s life in southwest England like for Asian, Black and other ethnically diverse people?

The make-up of our communities has changed and continues to do so, but has Devon and its neighbouring counties kept up with the pace of change?

Migration is happening all the time and can be triggered by economic needs as well as human rights abuses, war, famine and other natural disasters. But many ethnically diverse people living in Devon are not migrants. See the additional guide on migration.

Devon remains a predominantly White area, with 5.1% of Asian, Black and other ethnically diverse people reported in the 2011 Census. However, it is likely this figure is more in the region of 7 to 10% (2017) and growing.

Anecdotal evidence (2015/6) from Devon community organisations indicated that there have been pockets of poor practice towards ethnically diverse communities, including a ‘fear’ of discussing race / cultural issues and inappropriate use of family members as interpreters, despite there being arrangements for professional interpreting in place.

Racist views are fuelled by prejudice, ignorance and stereotyping and have a negative impact on the wellbeing of ethnically diverse people. Racism can sometimes stem from economic hardship coupled with a fear and mistrust of other cultures that they are ‘taking something away from us’. There is plenty of evidence to show that diversity benefits everyone. There is no place for racism in society.

We need to ensure we do not adopt a ‘colour blind approach’ or focus too much on cultural diversity. This means we should recognise the relevance of, and prioritise, racial equality and ensure we challenge inequalities as well as celebrate diversity.

Having a ‘colour-blind approach’: this is where racial equality is not seen as relevant in predominantly White areas and ethnic minority communities are ignored. In some cases, the perception of ‘low numbers’ has led to low prioritisation, despite the fact that people from ethnic minority communities are more likely to experience barriers in accessing services, discrimination or Hate Crime. Ethnic minorities are perceived as ‘the problem’ but ‘the problem’ is often other people’s perceptions or a result of embedded social inequalities such as a poor understanding of needs including language support, cultural awareness and the need to build trust and confidence between ethnic minority communities and public services. ‘Invisibility’ can result in products made only for paler skin and pictures always of White people.

Focusing too much on ‘cultural diversity’: this approach recognises the need to respect, accommodate and celebrate different cultures and traditions but does not address racial prejudice and discrimination. The organisation will fail to take steps to tackle disproportionate under- or over- representation in access to services or employment or address racism head-on, even denying racism exists because of the positives.

What is cultural competency?

Cultural competence refers to an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Cultural competence comprises four components:
  • Awareness of one’s own cultural worldview
  • Attitude towards cultural differences
  • Knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews
  • Cross-cultural skills.
Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures.

Examples of variations in culture/race (which may overlap with religion/belief)

There are similarities and variances of cultural norms across different ethnic groups and this guide is not set out to stereotype people, but to provide cultural competence so that these aspects, which are important in people’s lives, are not overlooked when providing services to Asian, Black and other ethnically diverse communities. It can be used as a checklist as part of the impact assessment process or when providing care for someone with a different cultural background to your own and it aims to help trigger further questions and considerations. It should not be a substitute for inclusive discussion and consultation and asking people about their individual needs and issues.

Behaviours/cultural norms:

  • Courtesy such as handshaking and use of eye-contact (direct eye contact may be perceived as aggressive by some cultures and no eye contact is showing politeness and respect rather than shyness or avoidance).
  • Presence of members of the opposite sex. Male workers should check if it is appropriate to visit a female service user on their own, for example.
  • Diet – access to favourite foods.
  • ‘Dinner manners’ – these things are particularly relevant where services involve personal care or visiting people in their homes. As an example, burping at mealtimes is considered polite in cultures from middle Eastern counties, but rude for others.
  • Attitudinal differences based upon laws/culture of country of origin – for example, attitudes about domestic violence, disability and homosexuality can vary across the globe and progress to achieve equality is slower in some countries than the UK (in some, it is much faster). Driving laws and attitudes to drink driving may be different to that of the UK, requiring targeted education programmes, for example. Practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, Breast Ironing and Forced Marriage are illegal in the UK but practiced in other countries. It is not necessarily racist to challenge and safeguard against illegal, cruel and harmful practices of a group who share the same heritage, but it would be racist stereotyping to assume everyone with that heritage follows that practice.
  • Intonation and ways of expressing can vary between cultures. For example, African Caribbean cultures can be more expressive, which may be perceived as noisy or disruptive by more conservative personalities. This has, for example, resulted in African Caribbean children being disproportionately disciplined in youth settings.


  • Clothing and hair styles/condition which would be important to understand in care settings. For example, African Caribbean hair needs to be treated in a particular way because it can be very dry. In traditional Chinese culture, it is rude to show bare feet.
  • Naming systems. For example, family name first, religious names etc.
  • Difference of skin colour/condition between ethnic groups. For example, policy or guidance that includes reference to skin colour (such as ‘if the patient is pale’ in First Aid training) also takes into account darker skin colours (such as ‘eyes are yellow’). Skin types also have different care needs (Black skin is often naturally dry and requires regular moisturising). Black skin can still burn in summer and therefore requires sun protection cream. Here is an example of how skin colour shows symptoms differently.

Family and genes:

  • Prevalence of certain health conditions – some ethnic groups are at higher risk of developing some health conditions.
  • Refugee or passport status and access to services/employment opportunities etc.
  • Family structures and support. For example, there may be greater involvement of extended families and division of care between wider networks in families from some ethnic groups. Understanding of private fostering requirements, support available for carers or what safeguarding means may be low due to lack of information in various community languages.
  • Some people may be experiencing trauma as a result of their experience or experience of family members – war, famine, human rights abuses in other countries etc.

Familiarity and assimilation:

  • Isolation or low trust and confidence because of previous negative experience including a lack of appropriate service provision which caters for cultural needs. Fear of authority may also be present, due to experiences in countries with poor human rights records.
  • Isolation and limited ability to source support (including emotional support) because of exclusion from community life or not having close family or cultural connections nearby. Staff, for example, may need additional support through diverse networks or buddies/mentors.
  • Lack of access to ‘bricks and mortar’ accommodation, access to a postcode or ‘landline’, people who are highly mobile – particularly relevant for Traveller and Gypsy communities and asylum seekers.
  • For people newly arrived from another country: lack of access to bank loans, credit history and references which can cause problems for things like renting or purchasing housing or a car, on top of costs of visas and, sometimes, relocating the family too. Bear this in mind when recruiting staff from overseas.
  • For people newly arrived from another area: lack of familiarity with all sorts of things including locations of services, shops, recreation etc., ‘how to do things’ and customs. As an example, when recruiting staff from overseas it would be helpful to provide a pick up from the airport, a buddy and temporary accommodation for the first few months so that the person can settle in easily.


  • Language difficulties – be clear and use plain English. Use symbols or pictures (Easy Read) for people who do not speak English and consider whether translations or interpreters are needed.
  • When communicating online with people overseas, be aware that internet connectivity may be slower and will require some patience.
  • Inclusive language or imagery used in communications which reflects diversity and reduces stereotyping and ‘colour-blindness’; particularly relevant where people are under-represented or in a minority. Absence of such things makes people feel “invisible” and “worthless”. For example, images and narratives in reports include perspectives of ethnically diverse people.
  • Being clear and direct (not vague and ‘fluffy’) when communicating, and not using metaphor or jargon as this can be confusing for people whose first language is not English. Use plain English and check your message for how it might be interpreted. Sometimes people avoid being direct because they think it appears abrupt and rude, but being vague and ‘fluffy’ about things can be very frustrating for people who have communication difficulties.

Race Equality Checklist

  • Is there anything which could lead to racial/cultural bias? For example, in guidance – to judge lack of eye contact as a negative thing.
  • Is there an opportunity to ask what needs or preferences someone has based upon their heritage and culture?
  • Do issues of a sensitive nature require careful communications to ensure they are not at risk of negative racial stereotyping?
  • Are staff culturally competent and operating in an anti-racist way?
  • Where relevant, are things like diversity of skin colour, appearance, dress, diet etc. taken into account?
  • Where relevant, are things like family circumstances, familiarity/assimilation and immigration status taken into account?
  • If someone has limited English language skill, or is communicating across a distance, in what way can this be supported?
  • Whether all ethnic groups have equal access to the service or benefits? What evidence do you have?
  • Whether there are any barriers to participation? What evidence do you have and what can you do to mitigate those barriers?
  • Other factors that are relevant to your service:

…what improvements can you make to any issues identified?

Further information

In response to the 2020 Black Lives Matters movement, following the death of George Floyd, there has been an increase in interest to understand racism and be anti-racist. There are many ways in which you can increase your knowledge of the subject. If you find it difficult to develop this understanding from your circle of friends, family or local community, a simple ‘google search’ for “anti-racism films and TV shows” or “anti-racism books” or “Black Lives Matters reading list” will provide you with good recommendations.