Coronavirus has opened our eyes to the reality that 63% of health care workers to have died in the UK, are from BAME backgrounds. Increased discussion about ethnic cultures, has made BAME the favoured term adopted by government and media outlets in recent weeks.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the term BAME is used to “describe people in the UK who are not white”.
This has left me perplexed as to whether authorities’ class me as British at all. I’m mixed-race and born in Britain. English is my first language and I’ve been raised in a northern, white, working-class, family.
When I go abroad, I proudly introduce myself as British and wouldn’t ever think to say any different. Although tempting, I pridefully scroll past job ads asking for BAME only applicants, determined that my talents will speak for themselves.
Pondering the potential implications of the term, I utilised social media and decided to open the discussion to fellow ethnic Brits.
Zuby, Rapper and popular online Creative Entrepreneur, who is of British-Nigerian heritage. said: “I’m not a fan of the term, I can’t stand it. I never use it.”
However, one male of British-Zimbabwean descent, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I think it’s a step in the right direction of acknowledging the diverse make-up of the UK.
“The worst thing we can do as a society is ignoring the fact that we are different in some ways. Choosing to ignore our differences, I believe, perpetuates racism and other forms of discrimination.”
While it appears to be a new-age term, its history lies in 1970s Britain where Asian and Afro-Caribbean migration was at its peak and like today, immigrants were met with opposition from natives.
‘Political blackness’ was the official term used to describe ethnic minorities who had come together to protest against the poverty, violence and racial discrimination they faced.
Despite the unity, many Asian protesters began to express frustration at being grouped under the term ‘Black’, arguing that it gave preference to Afro-Caribbean communities.
This is a sentiment which Ikram Hassan, who is of Bangladeshi heritage, still shares today.
“Within Asian communities, there are so many different ethnicities including Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Chinese. Having that stripped away and lumping together Blacks and Asians as one completely takes that away,” Ikram said.
By the 1980s, following the Brixton riots, local councils were under pressure to find solutions to public unrest and with migration increasing, Britain’s days of an “all-white” country had begun to fade.
When authorities realised that the nationalities arriving in Britain were more diverse than predicted, they created the phrase ‘Black Minority Ethnic’ (BME), or as we now know it, BAME (Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic).
You could argue that independent recognition of ethnic communities, such as equal opportunity incentives, is a positive step towards a fully diverse Britain. More often, career opportunities are being offered to ethnic minorities, with companies specifically targeting BAME applicants.
Writer, Tomiwa Folorunso, whose parents are both Nigerian, understands why companies utilise the term but questions how four letters can represent the vast diversity of the UK.
“People like the term BAME because it allows them to include people that the term ‘people of colour’ doesn’t,” Tomiwa said. “From an organisational perspective, BAME is like saying to everyone who’s not tradtionally white-British, that you’re also included here.”
“I prefer to use ‘people of colour’. With BAME, you say ‘black’ but are you including mixed-race people? There’s a different experience if you’re of mixed ethnicity and if you’re black,” she added.
“It’s trying to figure out how you honour everyone, not single people out and allow people to express themselves.”
Similarly, Usman Ahmad who is of Scottish-Pakistani origin, believes BAME helps authorities to research different social and ethnic groups but has concerns the term could encourage negative stereotypes.
“As long as the term is used in the right context, I have no issues with it as it’s currently highlighting health issues within BAME communities,” he said.
“However, considering how the media portray Black and Asian people, I don’t have much hope it will be beneficial but instead it will highlight negatives within these groups.”
It’s yet to be seen whether BAME will become the politically correct term of the future, or whether it'll evolve with the times like the LGBTQ acronym. With mixed responses from ethnic people of varying cultures, it’s clear that has created an opportunity for further discussion on what it means to be British and ‘BAME’.
I celebrate my differences, but I can’t help but feel that BAME promotes a coveted message which says that, even though I think I’m British, I’ll always be considered an 'outsider' in someway.
Regardless of whether that’s true, I still challenge whether labels are necessary in a world which pledges itself to equality.
“If someone is taking the time to write an article about different ethnicities, they can spend an extra two minutes to write the correct term, so people don’t misinterpret the acronym,” said Alejandra Coronado who was born in Bogota, Colombia.
“It could be a culture thing. We don’t do that [labelling] in my culture.”