According to recent data, more than 7.6 million people in the UK come under the category of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic). Whilst that’s almost 12% of the UK population, it’s clearly a minority. The Office for National Statistics estimates a White British population of 56.2 million people (approximately 88%).
There’s such diversity within that BAME population though that the term itself is problematic – as is the associated initialism ‘BME’. There’s also a problem in that the terms ‘BAME’ and ‘BME’ aren’t always associated with White ethnic minorities such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage groups, which we know are among some of our most marginalised and disadvantaged communities. To leave these communities out of the very language we use is to marginalise them even further.
It’s a label that’s often widely used by the government, public bodies, third sector organisations, the media and increasingly within the private sector when referring to ethnic minority groups. However, so few people who fall under the category of BAME personally identify with it or feel comfortable with its use. To be clear, I’m one of those people; I refer to myself as a 'person of colour', and on a census or official form I would identify most with the option of “Other Mixed”. These are my personal identifiers and other people within the BAME category and out-with it will have their own.
Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank, says very few people would stand up and identify themselves as a Black, Asian and minority ethnic person.
"The racist in the street isn't going to stop and ask you which country are you from and how much money is in your bank account. They're still going to treat you in a racially discriminatory way and I think that goes to show why we still need some sort of term but also some sort of movement to challenge racism in Britain today."
Zamila Bunglawala, Deputy Head of Unit & Deputy Director Policy and Strategy, Race Disparity Unit, Cabinet Office has also spoken out on the term BAME. She suggests ditching the acronym in favour of more open discussion about how people would like to be referred to, and proposes the broader term ‘ethnic minorities’.
A good friend of mine who’s a Scottish woman born into an Indian Punjabi family identifies with the terms ‘multicultural’ and ‘woman of colour’ as she feels they best describe her lived experience. Another friend with a similar heritage prefers the term ‘British Indian’ whereas his wife prefers ‘Asian Scottish’.
With so many people uncomfortable talking about ethnicity it’s understandable that having a neat catch-all term for all minority ethnic people may be appealing or helpful when it comes to classification, targeting and reporting. However, the lived experiences of many people (myself included), feel that being grouped together by the term BAME flattens the depth of our lives and has severe limitations. Now is the time to have an open conversation about this: about how minority ethnic people wish to be identified; to help overcome that fear factor of offending people.
As Zamila Bunglawala says;
“We all have an ethnicity, so it is important that we all discuss ethnicity in a way that is appropriate, inclusive and sensitive to how ethnic groups identify themselves”.
The key question I have though is if the term BAME is scrapped then what would it be replaced with?
I’d be really keen to hear the thoughts of others on this topic and perhaps you could let us know what your preferred terminology is.