Diversity and difference in communication
Diversity and difference in communication

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Diversity and difference in communication

3.4 Describing your ethnicity

Activity 5

Timing: 0 hours 15 minutes

The list of ‘ethnic’ groups below is taken from the UK census of 2001. Read through the list and then decide which term best describes you.


White British

Any other White background

Black British

Black Caribbean/West Indian

Black African

Any other Black background

British Asian




Any other Asian background



Mixed Origin

White and Black Caribbean

White and Black African

White and Asian

Any other Mixed background


Here are our responses to this activity.

Jenny: I define myself as ‘African–Caribbean’ – but this only has meaning in the UK. I would not necessarily use the same terminology in the Caribbean. What might be important in the Caribbean is that someone of Caribbean parentage has been born in the UK, hence someone might use nationality in this context, i.e. ‘British’ or ‘Black British’.

Carol: When I have to agree to a category like these, I define myself as ‘White British’, but I don’t like to think of myself in this way because I see nationalistic identities as potentially dangerous. I prefer to call myself ‘Irish’, because my father was from Northern Ireland – although this qualifies him as British too!

Martin: I would have to say ‘White British’, although I am unhappy about this for a number of reasons. Firstly, it seems to gloss over the parts of my ‘ethnic’ identity that are important to me, such as my Englishness, my Scottish ancestry, and my working-class London background. Secondly, both ‘White’ and ‘British’ are associated with histories of oppression – ‘British’, for me, has imperial connotations – whereas I am committed to equality.

How did you get on with this activity? Like us, but perhaps in different ways, you may have thought the census categories were too limited and rigid and did not match the way in which you perceive your ethnic identity. However, we hope that doing this activity has helped to illustrate some important points about the nature – and limitations – of the idea of ethnicity, some of which are explored below.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371