Is It 'BAMEover' for Grouping All Ethnic Minorities Together?

The acronym BAME, which stands for Black, Asian and minority ethnic, is redundant, inaccurate and neglects the diversity, humanity and lived experience of those from ethnic minority backgrounds, campaigners say.

BAME is typically used in the U.K. by the government, companies and organizations to refer collectively to diversity levels or about staff who are not white.

In the same way as using "people of color" as a catch-all, BAME is used to describe those with African, Caribbean, South Asian, Eastern Asian or any number of different heritages.

At one point or another, it was used to describe those of Hispanic origin but the blurry line of where "white" ends and "color" begins moves over time. Is a person of Mexican heritage a person of color or do they just have Mexican heritage? Is a British person with Caribbean heritage BAME or are they a Black British person with Caribbean heritage?

It is this rich tapestry of backgrounds that campaigners say should not be reduced to a single word or phrase.

"It's inaccurate to say BAME people, whatever the hell that means in the first place," Amanda Parker, the director of arts organization Inc Arts, tells Newsweek.

"I don't know any BAME people from BAME land.

"When you say BAME people in education, for example, the educational outcomes of people from Indian heritage backgrounds is very, very different from third-generation Caribbean backgrounds, so BAME people in education is nonsense when you group it like that."

Inc Arts campaigns for an inclusive arts workforce and is calling for an end to the use of the term. Parker organized a #BAMEOVER event to discuss it.

Cultural consultant Lara Ratnaraja told the meeting: "BAME more than any other acronym has been used to obfuscate and hide the system inequalities that are inherent especially in the cultural sector.

"BAME is used by people who feel their job is done if someone BAME is on a panel or is employed in an entry-level post. BAME is for people who posted black squares on Instagram and came up with anti-racist statements while looking at their all-white teams or all-white boards."

She also said the acronym "blurs and homogenizes in order to make difference palatable whilst simultaneously perpetuating 'othering'."

Lara told the virtual meeting that the term BAME also failed to take into account individuality of ethnicity and lived experience of people from an ethnic minority background and neglected to recognize their diversity, equality and humanity.

BAME term
The term has been described as inaccurate by people from the Arts sector who are campaigning for the government to drop its use. Getty

The origins of the term BAME can be traced back to the 1970s when, according to Professor Ted Cantle, who chaired the government's review of community cohesion in 2001, different ethnic groups used the term to fight back against discrimination.

"Why does this term exist which talks about us in a way we don't like?," Parker says.

"I see very often the government goes 'I'm lumping all of these people together, all these people of disadvantage, calling them BAME' and going this is what we can do and it's inaccurate."

Ozzie Clarke-Binns, community lead at advocacy group Dope Black Men, told the #BAMEOVER meeting that he felt the term BAME was seeking to solve a problem that doesn't actually exist.

"It's the need to categorize everyone in opposition to whiteness and that is where the crux of the issue comes. It's why I don't like the idea of non-white," he told the meeting.

"We are human beings. We should define ourselves in the affirmative of who we are and how we like to define ourselves not as the negative or as a lateral as something in relation to whiteness."

He recalled receiving a card for his birthday from colleagues at a previous employer and being told that it had been picked for him because it looked like him. It had a picture of a monkey in the front. Ozzie said that the only reason he had been told that was because he was black, not BAME, and the term misses that specificity.

What could the term BAME then be replaced by, if there is a replacement at all?

"It's not like you can get a thing out of a box and go 'right, there you go there's diversity'. It's not a simple or straightforward as that," Parker says.

"'What do you want to say about people and who are you talking about?' is the real question.

If you're talking about people from the African diaspora, let's talk about that. If you're talking about people from central Asian communities, let's talk about that and, if you're talking about a collective group of those individuals let's look at how we talk about a collective group of individuals elsewhere in the world because its exactly the same.

"I don't know why we need a catch-all term for people who aren't white because that goes right back to defining me according to the culturally dominant group which makes me question why we need a term."

But it is not universally agreed that catch-all terms aren't relevant given the current levels of diversity in senior positions and employees in sought-after industries.

"I disagree that the term BAME is entirely unhelpful," Gena Mour Barrett wrote for Refinery29.

"When institutional racism unconsciously (and consciously) funnels its way through to university intakes, job hiring and salaries, you often learn the hard way that the 'individual merit'... isn't enough in this country.

"It may not be conducive to dispelling the myth that ethnic minorities are a monolith, but we clearly need something when speaking to racial inequality in the UK."

09/07/2020 04:55 EST: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Ozzie was given a "car" rather than a "card". Ozzie also represents Dope Black Men not Dope Black Dads. The two are linked but not the same. This has been corrected.