Describing mixed races in this way would be too broad. How do I say that someone is black?

How do you describe somebody of two or more races?

Word like mixed and biracial do not depict that person's unique features. Some books that have the main characters on the cover so you have an idea of what the characters look like but some books do not.

  • Related: writing.stackexchange.com/q/42125/14704 Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 19:08
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    This question's not clear. Are you looking for the words biracial/biethnic? Something more specific? Or a phrase?
    – Laurel
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 19:43
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    Are you sure that most books have their main character on the cover? Looking over my collection of mostly fantasy books I can find lots of weird symbols and dragons but only very few human-like characters. My mystery and thriller books also rarely show their main characters. Therefore I want to ask what genre you are interested in. It might make a difference whether you are talking about the "southern hill dwarves living under the burning sun" or "Josh, the guy from the other side of the street".
    – Secespitus
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 20:03
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    I don't like how this question was edited. I want to immediately answer it as, You just did: biracial. I see that's not how it was originally phrased. But it should be further edited to say that the answer being looked for is not the word biracial, and why that's not what's being looked for. As it stands, however, it seems quite broad. Why would somebody with biracial features be described differently than anybody else? Everybody has features. Their race (or races) is irrelevant to describing them. Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 4:02
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    @Muze why do you keep rolling back others' edits, especially when you invited edits? Your rollback of tag changes made the question worse. Commented May 2, 2019 at 2:03

4 Answers 4


Usually, I can't tell if a person is bi-racial or multi-racial just by appearance. Also, some people may not see themselves multi-ethnic. The Hui people in China, for example, may be genetically similar to the Han people in China, but ethnicity is not based on genetics. It is based on culture and way of life. What makes the Hui people different from the Han people is that they use Arabic as a liturgical language and behave like Muslims. Being Han and being Hui is mutually exclusive. Also, as far as the Chinese government is concerned, a Chinese national is either one ethnicity or the other, and can't be both at the same time. This video is about "ethnic Russians" in China. From a Western POV, they would be considered bi-racial. From a Chinese POV, they would be considered mono-racial/mono-ethnic. They are classified as 俄罗斯民族 (Russian ethnic group), and because they are part of 中华民族 (Han people + all recognized ethnic minorities), they are considered "Chinese". Another example is this girl (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=if-n2AdVpUI). The video uploader adds the title: "Native Chinese white girl(native white race in China)", contrary to the evidence. First of all, the news reporter and the girl never mention that she is "white". She speaks her own ethnic language, and that she is an ethnic minority in China, specifically Tatar. She does mention that when she moves to Chongqing to study, she receives attention from the other students and locals, because her outer appearance looks like a foreigner. The Tatar people have varied appearances. A Westerner would probably look at the appearance and, if one person "looks Caucasian" and the other person "looks Asian", then the child would be bi-racial. However, I don't think that works for the Tatar people, because the child would still be regarded as mono-racial: Tatar. The parents' physical appearances make no difference. Then, there is this girl (https://www.youtube.com/user/DrVanharanta). She considers herself "half Finnish and half Hongkonese". I think, if you live in the West or have a very Western mindset because of one European parent, then you are more likely to identify yourself based on physical appearance. So, in the West, people do identify themselves as "bi-racial" or "multi-racial", and part of that self-identification has to do with physical appearance. Basically, China is "multi-ethnic" as a nation, but individually, every single "Chinese" person is mono-ethnic/mono-racial regardless of physical appearance, unless the Chinese person marries a foreigner. I remember in a YouTube video, a guy identifies himself as half-Chinese and half-Japanese, seeing himself as mixed-race. That would make sense, because Japanese people are not Chinese, hence foreigner. Westerners, on the other hand, would probably see him as "monoracially Asian".

So, no, I can't tell if a person is bi-racial or multi-racial just by appearance.

However, I will say this. Writing fiction is about the narrator's POV, not about political correctness. The only time when political correctness matters is when your audience is the social justice warrior type of person. A SJW reader is the type of reader that wants to see people of different races and sexualities mentioned explicitly. In their minds, they think they are being "inclusive", even though they are just assuming a Western viewpoint. Some people just don't see themselves as "bi-racial"; some people do see themselves as "bi-racial". In terms of sexuality and gender, Westerners will emphasize one's personal feelings and individualism. How one identifies oneself on the gender spectrum is more important than how society sees the person. A person may in fact identify as male, simply because society (relatives and friends) identifies him as male, and he looks like one on the outside.

If you know someone who is bi-racial or bi-sexual, then you can just write about your own personal experience with that person. The narrator is you. The bi-racial or bi-sexual person may be a friend or some kind of acquaintance. There you go, that's how you describe a bi-racial/bi-sexual person.


Where I live, belonging to two-three ethnic groups is the norm. Children in school boast about being a quarter Iraqi, a quarter Moroccan, a quarter Polac and a quarter old Jerusalemi.

How does one describe people when that's the situation? One forgets ethnicities (since by this point, they affect the kitchen more than anything), and describes what people actually look like. One mentions hair colour, and whether it's curly or straight. Skin colour: it can be pale, sunburnt, tanned, all kinds of brown. See also my question How to describe skin colour, if “white” is not the point of reference? There are facial features: eyes, lips, nose, cheeks. There's body shape - slim, curvy, whatever. There's the clothes. It's not about hanging "race" tags on a person (whatever "race" means anyway) - it's about describing the individual in front of you, and what that specific individual looks like.

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    Ethnicity should not be forgotten. It is a core part of one's social identity. However, it should not be confused with physical appearance. A person having certain physical characteristics does not mean that person is of certain ethnic or racial background. Curly hair, straight hair, pale skin, dark brown skin - these are all characteristics. An Indian or South African native may both have dark brown skin. Are they the same race/ethnicity? No. But race/ethnicity is tied in with culture, so that's very important.
    – Double U
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 3:35

I know one couple - delightful folks with lovely kids; he is an American from Kentucky who was a chemical physicist. He sold cars in my town and I asked him why the career change. He told me he met the love of his life and chose to sell cars rather than travel. His in-laws ran the best Korean restaurant in the area - absolutely fabulous. Not that it is important, but he is black and she is of Korean descent. Their kids are energetic beautiful kids.

I took a friend to talk to him about a car - learned how racist this guy is when he turned to me later and said “Why didn’t you tell me he was dark?”. Didn’t matter - he was the best person to talk to about buying a vehicle - period.

Unless it is important to the plot, don’t mention it. You could have a later scene where someone envies your character’s tan. A fiancee of my brother’s had that comment made to her occasionally. She wasn’t biracial (just very light)both of her parents were black. They were a delight and so was her brother, but this girl was a bullet my brother dodged. Her idea of his contribution to decision making in their family was whether to have jam or marmalade on their toast in the morning. We hated her, but not for the colour of her skin - for her character.

Make race a minor consideration. It is a story you are telling - not propaganda. Just write and let the characters speak for themselves. Readers can imagine them as they wish if you leave latitude.


Personally, speaking as a person with a diverse heritage, I think "biracial," "multiracial" and "multi-ethnic" are all reasonable, non-offensive descriptors. "Indeterminate ethnicity" is a acceptable visual descriptor for someone whose ethnicity can't be readily determined.

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    Yes but it does not describe the features of the person ethnic groups.
    – Muze
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 20:51

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