Posted on December 27, 2004

Blacks and Asians? No, They’re ‘Visible Minority Ethnics’ Say Police

Rajeev Syal, Telegraph (London), Dec. 12

The Metropolitan Police will no longer describe black people as black, as part of a new attempt to counter charges of racism in the force. Both black and Asian people will in future be referred to as “visible minority ethnics”.

The term, which replaces the phrase “black and Asian minority ethnics”, is expected to be adopted officially in January.

The decision was criticised yesterday as unnecessary and confusing by black police officers. Anna Scott, the general secretary of the National Black Police Association, said it amounted to a step too far by the “political correctness” movement.

“We have gone from saying ‘black ethnic minority’ to ‘black minority ethnic’ to ‘visible minority ethnic’ in a matter of years,” she said.

“There has been so much emphasis on the issue of terminology, that the issue has become confusing for black police officers, let alone white ones. We are risking becoming too politically correct at the expense of being clearly understood by officers and the general public.”

A senior police official told The Telegraph that some white officers were using the phrase so that they could avoid saying the words “black” or “Asian”, for fear of causing offence.

The official claimed that the term would allow these communities to be distinguished from others — such as the Irish and the Greeks — whose members are, according to the new terminology, “invisible” because they tend to be light-skinned.

In the 1960s, the phrase “coloured” was officially used by some police forces. By the 1970s, this had changed to “black” to describe people whose ancestors originated from the Caribbean and Africa and “Asian” for those who originated from the Indian subcontinent.

The phrase “ethnic minority” was also widely used as a collective term for both groups, but this was dropped in favour of “minority ethnic” five years ago, prompting criticism that it was an improper use of English.

Bernard Lamb, the chairman of the London branch of the Queen’s English Society, said that the new description was grammatically incorrect and over-sensitive.

“I do not like this new term at all. The word ‘ethnic’ is an adjective and you cannot pluralise an adjective,” he said. “They seem to have used a euphemism for black and Asian when I imagine most black and Asian people do not mind the words at all.”

The change will cost a significant sum of public money in retraining officers and rewriting manuals and a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said that some senior officers were already using the term.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Authority said that the new term was not a redefinition but was meant to standardise the phraseology used by the police.

“Concerns have been raised about the nature and range of terms used in papers presented to the authority when discussing ethnicity.

“To ensure that there is a uniform approach and understanding of terminology used in future, and that offence is avoided, the January meeting of the authority’s equal opportunities and diversity board will make decisions about the terminology we expect to use,” he said.