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I met a girl who has a diverse ethnic heritage. Part German, part Central American, part African-American, part some other European country that I forget.

What word can be used to describe her? Multi-ethnic, poly-ethnic? Multi-racial as in the title? What's the most proper/common term?

marked as duplicate by tchrist, choster, RyeɃreḁd, Kristina Lopez, p.s.w.g Oct 29 '13 at 22:10

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Human. Everybody is a mix to a certain degree if you go back far enough. Despite what some like to believe, there is no such thing as a "pure breed" human.

If you really want to use a term that highlights her diversity, I would go for mixed ethnicity or mixed origin or something like that. Do not use race first of all because the concept itself is not very useful and second because terms involving race tend to be laden with racist connotations. I am a mix of 5 different nationalities and I call myself a European bastard but I would not recommend that term.

It is unlikely that you will find a non-offensive single term for this since most people who feel the need to point out a person's 'racial' diversity tend to do so for discriminatory reasons. I am not saying that you are, it is just a quirk of the language's history that most such terms come from a very racist era. There used to be an incredibly nuanced vocabulary for people of various mixes of white and black for example: mulatto, quadroon, octoroon etc.

Anyway if you really, really want to use a term involving race, go for mixed-race or multiracial.

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This is a very good question and one which affects my own family. My wife is entirely of Chinese descent. Hence our children are Anglo-Chinese. And our grandson's father is Anglo-Italian. We also have a foster daughter who is Anglo-Caribbean, and she has a daughter whose father is Anglo-New Guinean.

The difficulty with identifying an elegant expression which characterises mixed-race as desirable and gives it the excitement it merits, is that history has held inter-racial marriage in such dim light. And language largely follows history. Perhaps the most positive term is 'cosmopolitan', but it doesn't precisely connote mixed -race. It means a person who is at home and at ease in many different countries and cultural surroundings. There are many unfortunately negative terms. But I think the one which we and our children would prefer would simply be 'a family/person of mixed-race'.

Of course if you go back far enough the white British themselves are potentially of mixed race. My own hair and skin-colouring suggests I follow neither the Nordic blonde, nor the Mediterranean dark appearance. And I know for sure that I have a Huguenot in my ancestry.

  • Interesting point, about language following history. This helps explain why there's no elegant term for it yet, as you point out. It's a shame... – ktm5124 Oct 29 '13 at 17:44
  • You have a Huguenot in your ancestry? Scandalous! Seriously, a Huguenot is a French Protestant of the Calvinist school. It's a religious persuasion, not a "race". But I am sure you know this and are making a subtle joke about it. Of course I fell for it. – Cyberherbalist Oct 29 '13 at 22:38
  • @Cyberherbalist Merely to indicate that I was not 100% Anglo-Saxon. – WS2 Oct 29 '13 at 22:59
  • Well, @WS2, who is? I'm like you, I suppose. British, French, German and American Indian. A nice mixture. – Cyberherbalist Oct 30 '13 at 0:20
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Multiracial is the term I personally use to describe myself, ethnically. It's pretty universally understood, and relatively neutral.

That said, different people have very different opinions and answers to this question. If you have a close enough relationship with the young lady in question, I suggest you ask her, tactfully, if she has a preferred ethnic descriptor.

As a side note: Tiger Woods coined the descriptor Cablinasian (Caucasian/Black/Indian/Asian) to describe himself (but I've never heard anyone else use that term except in jest!).

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