The term BAME is problematic.

THURSDAY JuLY 16th 2020

Black. Asian. Minority Ethnic. 


Let’s begin today’s lesson by addressing the term “minority ethnic”. This alone is problematic in itself. The word ‘minority’ connotes the notion of less than. ‘Less than what?’, I hear you say. Less than white in this case. Also in the grand scheme of things, and by things I mean the world, the ethnicity who are actually the majority, is the Chinese. And by the year 2050, the following nine countries are expected to be accountable for up to half of the world’s population growth: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia and Uganda. Plus, Africa the continent (it’s not a country, Karen) will likely make up a quarter of the Earth’s population. There’s a whole bunch of white people who just read that and are now frantically trying to reproduce. 


Now, let’s talk about the acronym as a whole. The “BAME” group accounts for the 13% of the UK who aren’t considered White British. Interestingly, Black people alone equate to 3% of the population. However, their experiences and the discriminantion they suffer is lumped into this generalistic group. You see the thing is, there are a lot of people who fall into the BAME group who actually are white passing and therefore benefit from white privilege. In addition, whilst the Asian community do experience discrimination, their experiences are vastly different from the Black community. Take Covid, for example.


According to the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, the group most at risk of dying from COVID-19 in the UK by far is the Black Caribbean ethnic group, with almost 80 hospital deaths per 100,000 people, closely followed by those of ‘other’ Black backgrounds (excluding African) and Indians. In contrast, Chinese people are statistically less likely to die of COVID-19 than White people. However, Chinese people, along with Black people, Arabs, Indians, and all other non-White people are all put in the ‘BAME’ category, which has homogenised the experiences of those who are not White and concealed the fact that Black Caribbean people are dying at a far higher rate than their BAME counterparts. 


There’s examples of why this generalistic term is problematic everywhere. UK arrests - Black and Mixed groups are disproportionately arrested in comparison to White, Asian, and other - which includes Chinese. Black people are also more likely than any other group to be unemployed, Black and Mixed people are more likely to be victims of crime and Black Africans in the UK have the lowest Homeownership rate, whilst Indians in the UK have the highest Homeownership rate. All these statistics prove that the Black experience is vastly different, so putting that into a category with multiple ethnicities just doesn’t add up.


Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking. You don’t want to say the wrong thing. Firstly, get comfortable with being corrected. If you happen to address someone in the wrong way and they inform you of how they identify, apologise, thank them for bringing it to your attention and move on. Secondly, if you’re unsure don’t be afraid to ask. Now I don’t mean get out your microaggressions vocab out e.g. “WhErE aRe YoU rEaLlY fRoM?” I mean say something like, “I want to address your ethnicity in the right way, could you help me by letting me know how you identify yourself please?” Maybe a little less robotic than that, but you get the point. 


Finally, language is evolving all the time. What’s acceptable now, might not be later down the line. BAME started out with good intentions to replace the term “coloured” and it’s likely this will happen again with a new term. It’s already happening with the American term BIPOC - Black Indiginious People of Colour, which holds a lot of the same issues as BAME - grouping two very different experiences into one group. Ultimately, we all have to just keep learning, keep reading and being open when someone brings something to our attention.