The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is to encourage those it regulates to use terms like ‘racially minoritised’ and ‘marginalised by race’ if they have to use collective language to describe ethnicity.
It said it was aware that unacceptable terms such as ‘coloured’ may still sometimes be heard at the Bar.
The BSB said the paper on its approach to racial terminology, published last week, reflected a need to establish “more granular and appropriate language that would allow us to use our research and data more effectively to understand the challenges and experiences of people from a range of ethnicities at the Bar”.
It also wanted to be clear to the profession about what it considered to be good practice when discussing race and “to encourage chambers and entities to do the same, especially as we are aware that uncertainty about the kinds of language to use may deter people from engaging in the necessary discussions”.
The paper acknowledged the “deeply subjective and personal” nature of the issue, such that no single term was likely to be universally accepted.
Using collective terms to describe different ethnicities was “unhelpful and insensitive”, however.
“As a risk-based regulator, we acknowledge that using the right language is key to understanding the experiences of people from a range of ethnic and racial groups at the Bar.
“We will, where possible, disaggregate data into specific ethnic and racial groups, particularly when conducting research or drafting reports.”
It pledged not to use acronyms like BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) or BME, saying they could be “vague and unrelatable” and did not help to understand the individual challenges faced by specific ethnic or racial groups.
“Where the grouping together of ethnicities is unavoidable, we will spell out the acronym or initialism,” it went on.
The BSB said it would not use terms “that are offensive or unacceptable (for example ‘coloured’ is a term that has been unacceptable for some time, but we have been made aware may still sometimes be used at the Bar)”.
It would also not define people in a negative way, such as ‘non-white’ or ‘non-traditional background’.
“These terms can be deeply offensive, suggesting that people do not belong by ‘othering’ them. Rather than using cross-cutting terms like ‘non-traditional background’, where intersectionality exists, we will spell it out.”
But where it was impossible to avoid collective language, the BSB said it would be guided by the context and content of the text.
“For example, if we are discussing the experience of a large community of different ethnic groups, we might use the term ‘racially minoritised’.”
In doing so, the regulator explained, it was “referring to communities that have been marginalised through the differential allocation of status and power, identified by their racial or ethnic group”.
Other terms the BSB may use “where more specific language is not applicable” included ‘racialised communities’, ‘Black and minoritised’, ‘minoritised communities’, ‘marginalised by race’, and ‘communities experiencing racial inequality’.
The government’s approach is not to use either BAME or BME “because they emphasise certain ethnic minority groups… and exclude others”. It uses ‘ethnic minorities’ to refer to all ethnic groups except the white British group.