Inclusive Language in Socioeconomic Status, Culture, Race, Ethnicity

Page Summary

  • Never use negative/positive cultural or ethnic stereotypes to make assumptions about groups of people or individuals.
  • Avoid using the noun for of ethnic terms.
  • Use precise language when describing groups of people rather than catch-all terms.
  • Avoid language that blames individuals for their circumstances. 

It is important to recognize the diversity of individuals when speaking or writing about who they are and where they come from. 

Although it may, an individual’s place of birth may not correspond to their culture, their race may bear no meaning on their socioeconomic status, and someone’s nationality may not correspond with their ethnicity.

With this in mind, here are two general suggestions when discussing ethnicity, race, culture, or socioeconomic status.

  1. The golden rule is to avoid any stereotypes about someone’s race, ethnicity, culture, or socioeconomic status. Don’t use these factors to make assumptions about individuals.
  2. Consider whether you need to identify people by race, colour, or national origin. Mention these things only if they are necessary for context.

English grammar note

In English, the names of nationalities, peoples, and races are generally capitalized: Swiss, Asians, Canadians, Germans. However, avoid using the noun form of ethnic or racial terms e.g. “The Whites are…”. Instead use the adjective form, “The White participants are…”.

Below, you will find a number of suggestions that will help you choose appropriate and inclusive language

Avoid This   Instead Try

Cultural/ethnical/racial stereotypes, even if they are “positive”.


Consider that individuals are just that, individuals. They are a combination of their life experiences, which includes, but is not defined by, aspects like their culture.

“Positive” stereotypes e.g. “The Swiss are always punctual”, propagate unfair standards that disadvantage those who don’t fit into those stereotypes.

Language that propagates negative connotations based on ethnicities e.g. “being gypped”.


Use alternative terms with no tie to any ethnicity. e.g. “being swindled, cheated”

Any term that reinforces a default characteristic for a group. e.g. “non-white”.


Distinguish between groups without establishing a default. 

Using nouns to refer to a person’s race or ethnicity. “Whites/Blacks are considered…”


Use adjectives to describe someone’s ethnicity/race. e.g. “White/Black participants are considered…”

Avoid This   Instead Try

The catch-all word foreigner when describing people.


The word foreigners has negative connotations and implications. In Switzerland, over 25% of the population does not hold a Swiss passport, however many of these individuals have lived in Switzerland for many years, completed their education here, learnt the languages, and assimilated into Swiss culture. In many respects, they are no longer “foreign”. 

Use the words immigrants, residents, or visitors depending on who you are speaking about instead of simply foreigners.

Avoid This   Instead Try

Using the term class.


Terms like “low-class” can be considered to be pejorative. They can be replaced by “socioeconomic status.”

Nouns that reinforce an immutable condition e.g. “the Poor, the Homeless”, or descriptors that place blame on the individuals for their situation or are pejorative e.g. “ghettos, disadvantaged neighborhoods”


When referring to people who grew up in or live in low income communities, areas, or countries, it is important to use language that maintains their dignity and doesn’t place the blame on the individuals themselves.

Try terms such as “People experiencing homelessness”, “Under-resourced neighborhoods”, “low-opportunity “.