When I was at university in the late 90s, a girl I shared a flat with would use the term "halfcast" to describe people of mixed race, especially in the context of people who had a similar skin colour to Halle Berry or Melanie B (from the Spice Girls).

Is this a racist or offensive term?

For a bit of context - this was at a university in the British midlands (ie near Birmingham/Leicester/Nottingham), the girl was born in Dundee in Scotland but was brought up in Northampton in England. I don't consider her to be a racist.

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    Interesting. I have never heard this word before. Is it British slang?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 17:20
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    I have heard it before, and I'm British, so it could be. @KitFox Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 19:03
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    Any word that refers to race is potentially offensive. And if it doesn't offend someone today, it might tomorrow. Like, when I was a kid we were told that a certain group should no longer be called "negro" because that was offensive; we should call them "black". Now we're told we shouldn't call them "black" because that's offensive; we should call them "African-American". I'm not sure how to get around this. Words that one person considers perfectly polite and respectable another declares to be a grave insult.
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 20:54
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    technically, since 'caste' is a description of a social class, 'half-caste' is a classist pejorative rather than a racial one. But these days 'racist' is a synonym for 'bad' anyway.
    – Oldcat
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 21:18
  • @Oldcat The Portuguese and the British in India picked up, and according to some distorted, the Varna and Jati classifications then referred to them as Catas (Portuguese) and Castes (British). The point is that even prior to European involvement the 'castes' were based on birth and, to some extent, racial differences. The British term half-caste is developed from this usage and means mixed racial origin. Half-caste was used pretty well universally up to the 1990s at least. I've even come across mixed race people who referred to themselves as 'half-case' or, more colloquially, 'half-chat'.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 11:49

6 Answers 6


The word is half-caste:


noun : a person of mixed racial or cultural descent : HALF-BREED

adjective : of the rank of or relating to a half-caste

Many dictionaries flag half-caste as being "offensive," "often offensive," or "derogatory."

Interestingly, while OxfordDictionaries.com lists a related term, mulatto ("a person with one white and one black parent") as being offensive, it doesn't flag mestizo ("a person of mixed race, especially one having Spanish and American Indian parentage") as being so.

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    I wonder if it is closer to mulatto, which is ambiguously offensive.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 17:32
  • OxfordDictionaries.com is unambiguous in flagging half-caste and mulatto as "offensive." (While mestizo, oddly, is not.)
    – Gnawme
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 17:36
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    Interesting. Another word I haven't heard. I shall have to make friends with more biracial people, it seems.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 17:38

The term 'half-caste' is indeed used to describe someone of mixed-race (mixed-parentage, mixed-heritage, or whatever other term is in vogue now). The reason that it is offensive however, is because the word itself has nothing to do with ethnicity.

Caste is a word describing social grouping or status and the term half-caste describes somebody who is not completely worthy of high caste status because one of their parents is from a lower caste, as was the case when black people were considered by the consensus to be of lower privilege than white people.

To still use this word now is to suggest that difference in social status still exists and thus its offensiveness is in part similar to the way 'the n-word' is offensive. Of course, a person who uses the term today might be wholly unaware of its original connotation but indeed it is clear why some might be offended by it.


In BrE this term is definitely frowned upon. An acceptable analogue is "mixed-race".

  • Dangerously close to a term used by American white supremacists. Commented May 20, 2015 at 20:31
  • @SpehroPefhany which term are you saying is dangerously close to another? What's the terms it is dangerously close to? Acceptability of term may vary from country to country, due to differing histories, of course.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:35
  • @Spagirl The term is "race mixing". It is a pejorative term used by American (and possibly other) white supremacists to refer to miscegenation. I won't pollute this site with a reference link, but you can google it if you like. Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 18:20

In agreement with others, I would say this term is at the very least insensitive now, though it doesn't seem to be as inflammatory as, say, "coloured" in the States. (I'm not from the States, but have seen reactions to its use in the media, such as Lindsay Lohan's use of it to describe Obama in 2012).

There are many terms which were at some time simply descriptive (half-caste simply making a statement about caste; a while back retarded simply described a condition), but as societies evolve and values change, it can become unacceptable to identify people according to outdated classifications.

In my father's country, I would be called afakasi, which is a Samoan loan-word which of course stands for half-caste. It's a fluid term, its offensiveness depending on who is using it or why. I might describe myself to someone as afakasi to point out that I am part Samoan, part something else. In Samoa, some pure bred Samoans will call someone afakasi in a pejorative sense to put them down.

While not the most offensive of racial terms, it certainly won't hurt us for the term to one day slip into the "totally unnecessary and unacceptable" folder.


As a mixed person which is a voice I find strangely lacking from these answers that indeed half cast is offensive. Honestly a mixed person telling you that a word about them affects is offensive to them should be the end of the argument. Like if a black person finds the n word offensive you don't use it end of story.

I find this double standard a lot. This word has never been and never will be okay. So just like if any other race tells you not to call them that just don't.

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    The people who have answered aren't responsible for other people not having answered. You have answered though, welcome :) Your answer suggests you think the discussion has tried to negate the views of mixed race people who find the term offensive. What I see is a lot of people, whose origins I don't know, talking about their relative awareness of a term and its origins, all agreeing that it is at least insensitive and generally offensive. Only one person (who claims it can apply to their own family) gets* close* saying it isn't. I don't know where you see a double-standard/slander.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:53

I have used the term myself and certainly never meant it in a derogatory way, sometimes describing my own family.

Wikipedia states:

Half-caste is a term for a category of people of mixed race or ethnicity. It is derived from the term caste, which comes from the Latin castus, meaning pure, and the derivative Portuguese and Spanish casta, meaning race. It can sometimes be used in an offensive manner but not universally (particularly in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and parts of Asia).

I shall have to find the current 'acceptable term'...

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