Use of racial terminology on Radiopaedia

Last revised by Dr Henry Knipe on 12 Nov 2021

This style guide article outlines the use of racial terminology on Radiopaedia.

Background

Race and ethnicity is a complex topic with a history of, and potential use for, discrimination. There are many issues in the use of race in medicine, mainly centered on definition, identification and relevance, along with a lack of overarching guidelines from international bodies such as the World Health Organization.

Definition

The idea of race and ethnicity is complex and steeped in historical definitions, which have been and still are used for discriminatory purposes. Ideas on the basis of race and ethnicity revolve around:

  • self-identification
  • shared cultural homogeneity
  • shared genetic homogeneity

All of these are problematic in medicine and each cannot be used as a definition in isolation as race and ethnicity are based within society but with a genetic basis.

Identification

Racial identification is difficult, mainly relating to the lack of definition as outlined above. In and before the 20th century, racial definitions were constructed mainly on the basis of racial superiority, and their current relevance and use are debated. There is no consensus definition of racial identification.

Self-identification and physical appearances do not correlate well with an individual’s genetics. For example, a person who is deemed “White” (by self-identification or profiling) may have an Asian or Black parent/grandparent, while a person who is deemed “Black” (by self-identification or profiling) may have a White or Asian parent/grandparent.

Relevance

The relevance of racial identification in medicine has been debated. One argument that has been brought forward is the genetic basis of disease, with higher rates of particular diseases in certain racial groups. Against this argument is that there are ethnic variations within racial groups that make racial identification less useful; relevant family history is much more important 1.

Style guide

Including race and/or ethnicity in Radiopaedia content is only appropriate if it is relevant to the teaching value of that particular article, case or multiple-choice question. This is similar to how age, sex or occupation may be relevant. It is important that specifying particular races and/or ethnicities in articles is supported by a reference to the literature.

Although there is no set of defined terms for specific groups to be used on Radiopaedia, the following should be taken into account:

  • racial and ethnic terms are proper nouns and should be capitalized, e.g. “Black” not “black”, “White” not “white”, “Indigenous” not “indigenous” 3
  • hyphens are not to be used in multiword names, e.g. “Asian Australian” not “Asian-Australian” 3
  • avoid comparisons where descriptors are different, e.g. “Whites and African Americans” reflecting a color descriptor vs non-color descriptor 3
  • avoid referring to groups as “Blacks”, “Whites” but rather “Black patients”, “White patients" 4

Importantly, some terms are considered outdated or may be offensive to some groups (e.g. “Afro-American”, “Caucasian”) 3 and should be avoided. 

The use of discriminatory, offensive, malicious or defamatory terms (as judged by the senior editorial board) will not be tolerated and may result in immediate suspension. 

Radiopaedia seeks to be as inclusive as possible while recognizing that there will be substantial regional and cultural heterogeneity in terminology that is used and deemed appropriate. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please contact [email protected] 

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