Use of racial terminology on

Dr Henry Knipe et al.

This style guide article outlines the use of racial terminology on


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.


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.


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.


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

Race and/or ethnicity can be used on if it is relevant to the teaching value of the case or article, just as age or sex may be relevant. We will leave the judgment of relevance to the contributor but this will be moderated by the editorial board.

There is no set of defined terms to be used on The use of discriminatory, malicious or defamatory terms (as judged by the senior editorial board) will not be tolerated and will result in immediate suspension.

Please contact [email protected] for questions, comments or concerns about the use of racial terminology on

Help and Style Guide

Article information

rID: 31831
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Racial terminology on

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