What is the right word to refer to a black person, when you don't know their name?

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14

Excuse my ignorance, I have lived in the UK for 8 years however I still don't know how to refer to a black person, as I came from a country where racism was not an issue.

Some agency called me last week and I was trying to explain to the person over the phone that I had visited them a few days prior to his phone call and I had been served by one of his colleagues, he insisted on knowing the name of that person and I couldn't remember the name so I said it was the black guy. I could tell that it was not appropriate or maybe he just didn't like the way I described his colleague.

Should I have said "dark"? "tanned"? or what exactly? I can't think of saying black American (I hear that lots on TV) as I live in the UK and nobody is American. Also I don't know what to add to the word "Afro" to make the equivalent of "black".

I have asked a friend who isn't a native speaker either and she only confused me more by saying that I can't even call a blackboard that name any more but it has to called "whiteboard" in order not to offend black people.

Terve

Posted 2014-09-08T05:42:20.183

Reputation: 1 122

1@DanEsparza - if someone was going to refer to me by a physical characteristic, I'd much rather have them call me "the white guy" rather than "the guy with the weird scar on his face" – Johnny – 2015-07-09T19:37:36.480

1I know this question was closed ages ago but I'd like to say that this is exactly the kind of nonsense the media likes to spout to the point that some white people are too afraid to make any sort of racial comment, justified or otherwise. In my experience most black people are perfectly fine with being called black. One or two are even fine with the 'N-word' that the media makes out to be some kind of ultimate sin. As gnasher729 said, if you get in trouble for it it will be the context that makes it dodgy. – Pharap – 2015-08-27T00:28:28.307

Wow. Maybe it's better to use the IC codes (IC-3 = black) :) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IC_codes

– psynnott – 2019-01-08T21:55:31.637

45A blackboard and a whiteboard are different things, so I think calling one the other would only lead to confusion. I can call my blacklist a whitelist, but it will mess up my security for sure. Changing my dinner invitation dress code from black tie to white tie has an effect on how people dress, not on how racist their thoughts may be. And calling the black pieces on a chess board white will not do any good either. – oerkelens – 2014-09-08T09:05:30.387

1Why not just refer to them by their clothing style, any distinguishing marks/scars, any special skills they might know, or their hobbies? Why does it have to be race? – Dan Esparza – 2014-09-08T13:13:59.533

36Because it's the most distinguishing feature and it's nothing to be ashamed of – Terve – 2014-09-08T13:15:23.050

5FWIW, the politically correct name for a blackboard is now "chalkboard". Stuff like this is getting beyond ridiculous, so I'd just call it a blackboard and risk offending the odd person if I were you – Bojangles – 2014-09-08T15:30:06.467

20You can of course use the terms blackboard and whiteboard without offending anyone. There is nothing wrong with the word "black", the concept of blackness or having black skin. I think your friend has missed the point. – Lembik – 2014-09-08T16:13:41.840

6@Bojangles "blackboard" was never completely correct anyway, as a huge number of them are actually green – Izkata – 2014-09-08T17:24:09.180

And then your friend uncaps her marker, asking "why are you bringing chalks?" you answer with "well... you said I should call it whiteboard..." – Raestloz – 2014-09-09T03:09:56.280

4Also, as a plot twist (and as 200 success mentioned) the term "black" is actually the polite term black people founded after they got offended enough by being called "colored" (and they were proud to be called that instead of "colored"). At this point, if they get offended by the term "black" too maybe we should ask them what to call them instead – Raestloz – 2014-09-09T03:14:10.067

IMHO, you do everything you possibly can to resort to using someone's race to distinguishing them. People get enough of it, they'll be glad you went with "the tall guy", or "the guy with glasses", or "the sales guy" or even "the guy with the lisp" or if you're desperate "the guy who...is he from Jamaica or something?" – Steve Bennett – 2014-09-09T08:07:11.857

2@SteveBennett cue Jamaicans claiming racism and stereotyping. I think this is a matter of the right tool for the right job: if "the black guy" makes the character in question much more recognizable, why not? Perhaps for the sake of being defensive you can resort to "the guy with black skin". – Raestloz – 2014-09-09T09:33:10.797

You cannot go wrong with "African-American" but avoid saying "black". Using a color to describe a person reminds people of the superiority-inferiority conflicts in history that were based on skin colour. – ADTC – 2014-09-09T11:08:02.500

@Raestloz The skin color attribute suggestion is good (softer than an adjective) but I think it's better to say "dark skin" instead of "black skin". – ADTC – 2014-09-09T11:12:05.923

@ADTC I'd say that "dark" has quite a wide spectrum. For example, people in Indonesia can have dark skin, and the people originating from Eastern Indonesia (such as Papua) can have skin as dark as African Americans, but they are not the people that pops in your mind when you say "black people". I'd say that I'm advocating the usage of "black" not as an indicator of their color, but as a general guidance that helps you paint the picture of the person in question. This may be stereotyping, but in this instance, if it helps why not? – Raestloz – 2014-09-09T13:11:32.217

@Raestloz There is actually no need to specifically mention that it's "black", because "dark" when mentioned in America, I am pretty sure, would more likely mean dark-skinned Americans (common) than Indonesians (uncommon). The idea of mentioning the skin color is not to indicate where the origin of the person is, but rather to paint the picture of how he looks like (to borrow your own words). Hence, saying "dark" is better, I would argue, than saying "black" as the former would not have the racial connotation and would simply be viewed as the description of the skin tone shade. – ADTC – 2014-09-09T13:22:06.987

42You cannot go wrong with "African-American" - you can if you're attempting to describe a UK citizen (the OP mentions they're in the UK) of Jamaican descent. You've used two words to describe someone and neither of them are correct. You can't get much more wrong than that. – Rob Moir – 2014-09-09T14:57:23.837

2@RobM - You beat me to it. Black students protesting in France, and CNN in the US called them "African American." Same error. – JTP - Apologise to Monica – 2014-09-09T19:37:06.160

3May I point out that, in many situations, the right thing to call a black person is "a person".... And there's nothing wrong with the adjective black when referring to things other than people; anyone who's claiming there is is exaggerating for effect – keshlam – 2014-09-09T21:44:53.783

1@Raestloz: "if 'the black guy' makes the character in question much more recognizable, why not?" - because people are much more than their skin colour, and deserve to be recognised as such. Focusing on this one thing over time makes their other characteristics seem less important, because they never get mentioned and groups them with unrelated other "black guys". – Steve Bennett – 2014-09-09T23:55:58.897

15

@SteveBennett That's a bunch of baloney. Ever played the game Guess Who? If asking "is your person black" can potentially eliminate all but a few options then it's strategically the right choice. If I walk into an office with only one black guy and am asked which employee I talked to last when I don't know their name, you damn well better believe I'll say "the black guy" because it eliminates all other options. Otherwise I'd have to sit there and go "the tall guy with short black hair, kind of skinny, brown eyes..." and still describe 8 people.

– Doc – 2014-09-10T02:32:12.213

This isn't really the forum, but I'll say this: your approach is logical, but problematic. – Steve Bennett – 2014-09-10T03:45:52.087

I’m surprised to see the suggestion that it’s better to say “dark skin” instead of “black skin” (when referring to a very dark-, i.e., black-, skinned person) because “darky” (or “darkie” or “darkey”) is considered offensive when used to refer to a black person.

– Scott – 2014-09-10T17:46:50.283

6If you're worried you may inadvertently say something insulting, it can't hurt to use a few extra, clearly polite words to help signal your intent, e.g. "I was speaking to a black gentleman". – Chris Johnson – 2014-09-10T20:31:15.497

1I would say that the root of all this problem is the fact that people, for no good reason, attaches racism to the word instead of the person uttering it. Words are nothing but a way to convey meaning and intent, even polite words are nothing but masks. The high society can insult each other, only through polite words, which is useless when everybody in the house knows what you mean. – Raestloz – 2014-09-11T01:10:18.623

Answers

79

In the UK, black person is the usual way to describe someone of African or Caribbean ethnic background and I wouldn't expect it to be taken as offensive. Referring to someone as a black (as a noun) would be offensive.

Referring to someone as the black guy could conceivably be interpreted as a little disrespectful if you might have been expected to call them by name, depending on the context. In your specific example you could have said I don't remember your colleague's name but he's black, if that helps? and I wouldn't expect anyone to be upset by that form of words.

Your friend is either misinformed or engaging in propaganda against perceived "political correctness". Stories about the word "black" being banned in some context or other pop up in the tabloid press with depressing regularity but invariably turn out to be untrue or misreported.

nekomatic

Posted 2014-09-08T05:42:20.183

Reputation: 1 031

35"Fred, John, James and the black guy" is very disrespectful. "The blonde guy, the guy with the earring, the one with the big nose and the black guy" isn't. – gnasher729 – 2014-09-08T14:25:05.820

1This is a much more sensible answer than the most upvoted one. The point is why are you describing a person only by their skin colour? I would think about how you would identify someone of your own skin colour and try to describe everyone in that way. – Lembik – 2014-09-08T16:12:06.947

7@Lembik: Usually, one starts with the most obvious difference from whatever is "common" in the potential set. There exist places where some people are mostly white, making "black skin" a very obvious difference. – Mooing Duck – 2014-09-08T21:18:24.537

11@gnashery729 I agree that it is perceived as disrespectful, but not that it is disrespectful. It is only seen that way because the race issue is a sensitive one for historical reasons. If you were to say "Fred, John, James and the French guy" nobody would be offended. The fact that "and the Black guy" is singled out as offensive is itself a form of discrimination that shouldn't exist. In an ideal world skin colour or race would be so unimportant that you could refer to it without anyone caring. I realise that what I'm saying is more philosophical than practical however. – JBentley – 2014-09-08T23:53:34.893

2@JBentley Is there an actual difference? If you know something will be perceived as disrespectful in a given context, it is disrespectful to do it nonetheless. And of course, meaning and connotation depend on culture and history but that's a trivial point. – Gala – 2014-09-09T01:57:27.940

@Gala it has a useful side-effect of marking which people have narrow vision. For example, Japan has strict rules regarding calling people by their first name (reserved for close people only) but modern Japanese can forgive foreigners for not knowing that and accidentally call new acquaintances by their first name (especially tourists), the ones that don't are the ones you definitely should not piss off – Raestloz – 2014-09-09T07:07:09.677

11@JBentley: If I named three people by name but not the French guy, of course the French guy would be offended. Rightfully so. Three names + one identifying description is offending. Four identifying descriptions is not offending. – gnasher729 – 2014-09-09T09:41:10.457

9@gnasher729 That depends entirely on context. The French guy would only be offended if your acquaintance with him is such that he would expect you to know and remember his name. Even so, his being offended is about the fact that you didn't bother to learn his name, not about the fact that you called him French. – JBentley – 2014-09-09T16:16:24.893

1@JBentley Good point, and made me want to pose this further hypothetical example: "Hans, Juan, Jacques, and the English guy". It does still single someone out on a single characteristic, though; indeed, there is the assumption that he is the only person matching that description, rather than it being one of several characteristics which might narrow down the possibilities. In the OP's case, there may be several black men working for the agency, but they didn't happen to be in the office on that day. – IMSoP – 2014-09-09T18:44:32.483

2Black is not disrespectful. You can increase the description and have it less likely to be perceived by morons as disrespectful: the tall black gentleman with the goatee. – AbraCadaver – 2014-09-10T15:48:05.083

1While using 'person' instead of 'guy' is marginally more respectful, in this day and age it is difficult to indicate the race of anyone without offending someone. You can either awkwardly dance around the issue like most people and risk confusion, or you can just say 'black/white/brown/asian/native' and risk someone being mildly offended. The truly ridiculous part is you're more likely to offend someone by proxy than directly. eg. If you were talking to the black guy when you said it I doubt he'd care, but his white colleague on the other hand... – Sammitch – 2014-09-10T23:13:22.133

26

To answer the last part of your question – where someone told you that you should avoid using the term blackboard – there is a difference between a blackboard and a whiteboard; the two terms refer to different products.

Blackboard vs. whiteboard

A blackboard, also called a chalkboard, is usually black or dark green and is meant to be written on using chalk.

blackboard

A whiteboard is a smooth white plastic-coated board, meant to be written on using a felt pen.

whiteboard — "Blank whiteboard" by BrokenSphere - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Blackboards and whiteboards are different things. Whiteboards are starting to displace blackboards due to chalk allergies, among other reasons. However, referring to a blackboard as a "whiteboard" due to racial sensitivity is silly political correctness gone wild. If you really need a euphemism, call it a chalkboard.

200_success

Posted 2014-09-08T05:42:20.183

Reputation: 7 829

1@Laure Done. (Blackboard image is Public Domain. Whiteboard image is CC-BY-SA.) – 200_success – 2014-09-08T06:54:48.747

1

I first agreed with @Esoteric until I paid more attention to the last paragraph, and noticed that this is indeed addressing a part of the question that went unaddressed in a previous answer. Interestingly enough, I think some chalkboards are called blackboards, even when they are green, which a quick Google search confirms. At least in the U.S., I don't think anyone would resent the term blackboard, although you might get a funny look if you referred to a chalkboard as a whiteboard.

– J.R. – 2014-09-08T09:05:09.767

2Yes, my mistake, I missed the last remark in the question. I do think this would be better as part of your other answer, though. On its own it doesn't address the bulk of the question. – Esoteric Screen Name – 2014-09-08T09:07:09.963

8"chalk allergies" My ears certainly have a chalk allergy. – Peter – 2014-09-08T14:27:55.020

6I'm pretty sure that "referring to a blackboard as a whiteboard due to racial sensitivity" is eitehr a misunderstood joke or a myth made up by the kind of person who sees an evil conspiration to destroy their way of life in any change they did not propose themselves. – Michael Borgwardt – 2014-09-08T15:54:22.433

@Peter Exactly what came to my mind. – Damien Golding – 2014-09-10T01:13:37.310

21

Preferred terms

  • African immigrant: If you know for a fact that the person was born in Africa and is now living in the UK, this is a safe term to use, as it frames the subject in terms of circumstances such as birthplace and residence, rather than race. Technically, it could also include non-black people who meet those criteria, though. Based on feedback, this is not recommended.
  • African-American: This is the preferred polite term in the United States. I don't believe that there is a common British equivalent, though. The term is generally interpreted to include only dark-skinned Africans and their descendants.
  • Black: This is blunt, but still safe to use. In my opinion, trying to avoid the standard term black by using alternative terms such as dark or tanned would be worse.

Terms to avoid

200_success

Posted 2014-09-08T05:42:20.183

Reputation: 7 829

A link that is relevant for "coloured" http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/30994775/benedict-cumberbatch-sorry-for-coloured-comment

– March Ho – 2015-04-18T17:53:30.310

@MattFletcher I don't get it. In Puerto Rico 12.4% "identify as black", in the US overall this is 12.6%, i.e. Puerto Ricans are mostly of European descent. What is the link then between Puerto Rico and black people / African Americans in the context of this question?

– gerrit – 2015-07-09T10:25:47.907

@gerrit it makes more sense if you've seen the episode. Ross assumes that the man is tanned but actually his darkness is due to ethnicity. Hilarity ensues. – Matt Fletcher – 2015-07-09T10:27:24.840

I think black or dark-skinned are the only acceptable terms in the UK. Referring to someone as being afro-something or african-something is silly because many black people don't even come from Africa. And those who do probably have had generations living in this country, so even if one's great grandfather was from Africa it'd probably be rude to refer to them as African. Also you get white Africans! With so many loopholes, I'd just stick to black. – Matt Fletcher – 2014-09-08T08:15:08.637

11Also, never say tanned! Reminds me of that Friends episode in the tanning salon: "So, how dark do you want to be? We have 1, 2, or 3.", "Well uh, I like how you look, what are you?", "Puerto Rican.". – Matt Fletcher – 2014-09-08T08:18:57.550

@MattFletcher "Tanned" reminds me of a Berlusconi gaffe. I believe I've mentioned the same caveats as you have for the alternatives to "black".

– 200_success – 2014-09-08T08:22:42.763

19I believe that a black person in Britain is statistically likely to be (a) not an immigrant but born within UK, and (b) not of direct African descent but from Carribean origins. So "African immigrant" would be a terribly bad default option, unless you know the ancestry of that particular person. – Peteris – 2014-09-08T12:22:49.713

1"African immigrant" would get me in a big trouble – Terve – 2014-09-08T12:26:22.577

2"African immigrant" wouldn't go down well with someone whose ancestors lived in Britain for 200 or more years. And I read an article once about people in South Africa who got really annoyed being called "African American". – gnasher729 – 2014-09-08T14:22:31.913

1@gnasher729 Of course, it only applies to some people, as noted. – 200_success – 2014-09-08T14:25:08.173

This is a ridiculous answer. I wouldn't follow it. First, you can't call someone about whom you only know their skin colour "African-American" in Britain. Second, the word "Negro" became taboo in about 1980. That's a long time ago! – Lembik – 2014-09-08T16:10:03.527

3"Afro-Caribbean" is probably the closest UK equivalent to "African-American". In many cases it's not an especially accurate description (many black British people are descended from Africans, and have no Caribbean ancestry), but unlikely to seriously offend anyone. – tobyink – 2014-09-08T16:52:30.287

8Black people don't generally use the American Standard English word "n----r" jokingly; they use the related African American Vernacular English word "nigga", which means roughly "person" or "man": a different word in a different dialect. If you don't speak AAVE, don't use the word. – Russell Borogove – 2014-09-08T17:44:35.180

Actually African-American has fallen out of favor among black activists in favor of black. African-American is seen as containing too many assumptions. Not all dark-skinned people come immediately from Africa, nor is the person one's referring to necessarily American. Also while coloured is seen as bad, saying person of colour is seen as acceptable by many (it has been introduced as an alternative to "minority"). – j.i.h. – 2014-09-09T13:34:49.420

1Africans that I know refer to themselves as "African" not as "black". This is one of those situations where, whatever word you use, somebody is going to poker up and inform you that it is now offensive or inappropriate. Which then leads to verbal gymnastics, as you try to avoid noticing that someone has a different skin tone, and that is also perceived as offensive by some (ref a recent article in the Daily Telegraph by (dark-skinned) Radhika Sanghani. There is no easy answer to this question unfortunately. – user1725145 – 2014-09-10T09:37:17.933

In the US, "African-American" is preferred by those who are of direct AA heritage, but the more general term is "person of colour," or POC. "Coloured person" or "coloureds" (noun) both have heavy racist connotations so should not be used. – i alarmed alien – 2014-09-10T10:40:22.477

There's always 'Snookie' from Jersey Shore filling out her ethnicity: "I'm not white, I'm tan." :| – RossC – 2014-09-10T14:33:47.120

16

As you pointed out "African-American" doesn't work for the UK, as the person is not American.

That term, at least in the U.S. has somewhat fallen out of favor in recent years because there are also black Dominicans, Jamaicans, Brits, and actual Africans who got tired of being mislabeled. I imagine it's a similar situation in the UK.

While "African-American" is still very common here, using "black" seems to be be the most recent "acceptable" term because it is in fact a descriptive neutral adjective & avoids the question of specific cultural backgrounds.

As pointed out above, however, using "black" as a noun ("a black" or "the blacks") is disrespectful because it's just another way to group people together under a blanket stereotype. It becomes a sort of stand-in for "the N-word" and ceases to be a useful descriptor for the individual.

Perhaps they have several "black guys" working there? Offering more information might help narrow things down. I might suggest throwing it into a list of other adjectives:

He was about 30, tall, black, and wore glasses - sorry, but I don't remember his name.
He was here last Thursday around 2pm.

Is this hyper-sensitive overkill? Maybe. On the surface it seems sort of ridiculous to have to dance around somebody's most obvious identifying characteristic ... The commenter above made a good point about this though - you wouldn't refer to "the big-forehead guy" or "the hot chick" in polite conversation, even if those descriptions are accurate.

'An African American', or 'a black'?

African-American vs. black

mc01

Posted 2014-09-08T05:42:20.183

Reputation: 2 858

8As for the "big forehead guy" and the "woman with huge boobs," part of what makes this tricky is learning what discriptions are acceptable, which are inappropriate, and which fall in the middle. That's partly cultural, and very situation-dependent. I think "the fellow with glasses" is okay, and maybe "the woman with long red hair." Depending on the situation, "the bald guy," or "the black guy," or "the pretty woman," could be risky. Calling someone "the short one" might be met with a good-natured laugh, or a look of resentment. Some are more sensitive about race, height, or hair than others. – J.R. – 2014-09-08T21:15:44.337

3I personally find it confusing that people get offended by the word itself instead of the actual context. If someone uses "the black guy" as a description because that's the only difference between a group of people (for example, a bunch of construction workers wearing the same overall uniform with similar builds), they should not be offended. Now, if that someone use it explicitly for insult, then they should by all rights be offended, but you can replace the word with any other insult and it won't make things any better (such as "enterprise strategic downsizing") – Raestloz – 2014-09-09T07:12:15.060

1I'm surprised not to see "person of color" mentioned in the US context, as I've seen it a lot in print/online. I'm from the UK, though, so don't know if this is used colloquially, or only in more formal registers. – IMSoP – 2014-09-09T18:47:45.850

1True "person of color" is often used as a "catch-all" term for a group of people when discussing policies or experience - but not typically as a way to describe/identify a person as in the original question. People might say "as a person of color I think X about issue Y." Using it to say "I don't know his name, but he was a person of color" sounds a lot like the very outdated "he's colored," which is from the 1950s & no longer widely used. – mc01 – 2014-09-09T19:07:02.460

Person of color sounds bad to my (Dutch) ears as well though. First, everybody has a color, and second it reminds of the old South African division of people into three classes, white, colored (=mixed race/Asian) and black. – RemcoGerlich – 2014-09-11T08:11:34.777

5

"Tanned" and "Dark Complexion" are definitely terms to avoid - not because they're offensive - they're just confusing. If you describe someone as "tanned" I would never think that you're a referring to a black or Asian person.

Black would be the obvious choice in most contexts (as in "(s)he's a black guy/woman") although it's not really specific enough. OK, maybe they're the only black person there but bringing attention to that seems a little crass. It's fine as part of a wider description though.

Similarly, if I was describing someone who was in a wheelchair I probably would mention that they're in a wheelchair - but my description wouldn't just be "The guy in a wheelchair" because that comes across as a rather one dimensional view of someone.

dantefs

Posted 2014-09-08T05:42:20.183

Reputation: 51

1Dark complexion is the safest I think. – None – 2014-09-09T04:39:20.597

2+1 for "as part of a wider description", which I think is really the key here. – IMSoP – 2014-09-09T18:40:10.273

3"Dark complexion" is pretty useless if you have two people of Jamaican and Indian origin, plus a white guy who spent much too much money on fake tan. – gnasher729 – 2014-09-09T21:47:00.427

+1. I usually think of "dark complexion" as a relative term--you can have a white guy whose skin is darker than average for a white guy, and he has a "dark complexion". Similarly, you can have a black guy or an Asian guy whose skin is darker than average for those groups, and he has a "dark complexion". To me, "tanned" specifically means "someone with extra melanin due to exposure to the sun". My father is Asian, and his skin gets darker after sun exposure just like a white person's would, so it seems a little ridiculous to describe his base skin tone as "tanned". – tsleyson – 2014-09-09T23:11:30.137

3

Literally: Black skinned
Often used and relatively safe: Black
A little safer: Black person

It's not fully safe, but that is a problem with society. "Black skinned" is exactly how it is unless they have a lighter tone and then I guess you can replace "black" with the tone, but in the end I can't see why you have to, it's become a too touchy subject.
Saying black is also safer and more literal than most, but it seems a little labelling as if you ARE black rather than somebody with black skin.
Also try to avoid even partially negative words with black as it may be taken the wrong way, for example, use black person over black guy.
I would say any of the above is literally correct, but not exactly socially accepted but as you tend towards socially accepted it becomes less literally correct as if the whole subject is something that should be avoided and that itself causes problems.
African-American and all those location based names are just incorrect and may be taken negatively for completely different reasons because being called African-American who themself and their family has always lived in say the UK is just wrong.

Damien Golding

Posted 2014-09-08T05:42:20.183

Reputation: 241

3

I'll break down the issue with using the term black guy from my perspective. First is the term black; you are identifying someone completely by their skin color. Second is the term guy; it's a casual word that doesn't confer respect. Put those two together and you are identifying someone by their racial characteristic in a manner that doesn't confer respect.

Here are my suggestions and I'm sure there are super sensitive people who would disagree with them. If there's a dozen white people in a room and one black person, I'm not going to tiptoe around the easiest and most obvious identifier; I will however, try to show a little bit more respect and use the term black gentleman. For example,

I don't remember your colleague's name, but he was the black gentleman at the managerial department.

Or, you can lessen the impact of identifying someone strictly by skin color by using other identifiers in addition:

I don't recall your colleague's name; he wears glasses and has a cubicle next to the water cooler; an African gentleman.

You can't please everyone but I think being mindful of respect goes a long way.

deadghost

Posted 2014-09-08T05:42:20.183

Reputation: 169

1

It is true that for some people in the UK, race is a highly inflammatory topic, unfortunately sensitivity and respect have been overridden by political correctness gone mad. Consequently, if I felt the person in front of me was setting me a trap, i.e. he or she was testing me, I would have described the person as if he were "white". I wouldn't normally start describing any caucasian as being "white", so why should I if the person happens to have a different skin colour? I'd start with their height, hair length, age, physical appearance etc.

A: Who did you talk to yesterday?

Me: [example] "I'm sorry I don't remember his name. I think it began with J, but I'm not sure. He was a tall guy, well-built, must have been in his 30s. His hair was quite short and he was wearing glasses, and a red sweater too. He had a beard, and tattoos on his forearm.

A: Ahh that sounds like Jason.

OR

A: (after listening to the brief description) Anything else?

Me: Yes, he had black skin/His skin was black.

Mari-Lou A

Posted 2014-09-08T05:42:20.183

Reputation: 19 962

@snailplane I am not making any distinction in the colour of their skin. I wouldn't normally start describing a white person as being "white", but I would start with their hair colour, age, physical appearance etc. likewise if the person being described is Asian, South American or black. In British newspapers today the term black is assiduously avoided, you only discover a person's ethnicity if a photo is printed of them, or their name is reported. Sometimes the term, muslim is used, but I believe that is being discouraged. – Mari-Lou A – 2014-09-09T21:42:45.920

"Sometimes the term, muslim is used, but I believe that is being discouraged. " - are you... are you being serious? – AakashM – 2014-09-11T13:27:14.897

@AakashM I'm sorry, I don't understand. If I'm mistaken, I'll delete the comment. – Mari-Lou A – 2014-09-11T13:37:49.957

"Muslim" isn't a euphemism for "black". It really isn't. – AakashM – 2014-09-11T13:58:28.277

No, of course not. You've misunderstood me. I was talking about discrimination, racial prejudice, political correctness etc. Inasmuch as reporters will be cautious before reporting anybody's colour, creed or race. If you had lived in the 60s/70s and early 80s there was a general lack of sensitivity, if a white person committed a crime his/her skin colour was never mentioned. If the same offense was committed by a black person, that was always picked up on. Recently if a person happened to be of the muslim faith that was reported as being relevant, of significant importance. – Mari-Lou A – 2014-09-11T14:04:08.143

OK. Deleting comments. – AakashM – 2014-09-11T14:09:38.187

@AakashM I don't mind your comments. You raised a good point, I hadn't realized that my words could have been misinterpreted. – Mari-Lou A – 2014-09-11T14:12:49.020