United Nations Security Council
The UN Security Council.
  • The United Nations has been criticised for sending out a survey that asked if people identify themselves as "yellow."
  • The term is a slur that has long been used to refer to Asians and "should not be used, period," an NYU professor told Reuters.
  • A UN employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters that they found the question "insane" and "deeply offensive."
  • A spokesperson for the UN acknowledged the need for "greater sensitivity" and said the survey will be removed and revised. 
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Thousands of United Nations employees received a survey on racism on Wednesday.

The directive came from the top, Reuters reported, as the questionnaire was part of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' "campaign to eradicate racism and promote dignity."

But the survey's first question itself raised eyebrows, staff told Reuters. It asked if people identify as "yellow," which is a racial slur that has targeted Asians and people of Asian descent for over a century, according to NPR.

Other answers included black, brown, white, mixed/multiracial, and any other, Reuters said.

"The first question is insane, deeply offensive and hard to fathom how in an organisation as diverse as the United Nations this question was approved for release in a system-wide survey," an unnamed UN staffer told Reuters.

In response to the outcry, the organisation's spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told the news outlet that the survey would be "taken off-line and revised appropriately taking into account the legitimate concerns."

"We acknowledge the need to formulate these categories with greater sensitivity and will take immediate steps to rectify this," he added.

Erica Foldy, an associate professor at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, decried the use of the derogatory label.

"It should not be used, period," she told Reuters, referring to the term "yellow."

However, Foldy said, this serves as a reminder that "language related to race is complex and always in flux."

"Recently brown, which had been considered something of a slur (though perhaps never as problematic as 'yellow') has come into broad use. But I don't see that happening with 'yellow'," Foldy told Reuters.

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