Ethnic names and skin color
Question No.3: How to use ethnic names and how to speak about human skin color?
People from Africa
In the case of ethnic names, it is better to say: students from Africa, people from Africa, Africans, Africans. Usually there is no reason to emphasize the color of their skin when talking about people, especially since it is associated with racism – for example in the phrases “black people of Africa” or “people of black Africa”.
However, opinions on this matter are divided: some immigrants or people of African origin prefer to be “Black Poles” or “Afro-Poles” than “Africans”.
The word “Murzyn” is very strongly burdened with the negative stereotype and it is perceived as offensive by people of African descent living in Poland .
“African American” – these words are used to describe people from the United States.
Names of nationalities and ethnic groups
The most important thing here seems to be to avoid phrases referring to the names of nationalities and ethnic groups. Usually this is motivated by a negative stereotype. Colloquial, usually offensive, names should also be avoided, even in an informal conversation. If it is not necessary, do not identify specific persons by determining their nationality or origin. If a name in colloquial circulation has a negative connotation and may offend someone, the periphrase “person from ..” (plus the name of the country), “person of nationality ..” (plus the name) is safer.
Some Polish speakers are reluctant to use the terms “black” and “black person” because they perceive describing people due to their skin color as racist. Nevertheless, if we have to indicate this in some way, for example, when talking about hate crimes against such people, the term “black” is the least offensive. The word “Murzyn”, on the other hand, although completely normal a few decades ago in Polish language, today is more and more commonly perceived as disrespectful or contemptuous, so it is best not to use it at all.
African Americans and African Americans refer to each other as “Black” as positively valorised. In the context of academic considerations about identity movements in the US, the term “Black” should not be taken as offensive.
People from Asia
Although the dictionary definitions of the words “Asian” (an inhabitant of Asia) do not indicate this, these words are not free from negative connotations. An additional problem is that they are used not only for people from all over the continent, but also in a narrower sense, for people from East Asia or East and Southeast Asia. It is better to use the name of the country of origin or the name of a specific place in relation to the inhabitants of the entire continent and its regions. While we usually do not give examples of extremely inappropriate terms, we would like to remind you: terms referring to the stereotypical perception of the appearance of people of East Asian origin, such as “yellow”, “Chink” or “slanted eyes” are unacceptable.
Other ethnic names
Many ethnic names will appear in the academic discourse most likely in abstract terms in geography or economics lectures. We do not deal with all such names here. We do not mention the Inuits, who are no longer called Eskimos in the world, the Sami, whom we will less and less call the Lapps, or the Indians commonly called Native Americans today (and we definitely reject the old term “red skins”). We leave the choice of the right name to specialists in a given field.
Professor dr hab. Mirosław Bańko, prof. dr hab. Jadwiga Linde-Usiekniewicz, dr hab. Marek Łaziński prof. UW “Recommendations for non-discriminatory language at the University of Warsaw” [in Polish].
Additions dr hab. Julia Kubisa