BAME is a term long used in the UK to refer to black, Asian and minority ethnic people. Its origin derives from "political blackness", an idea that various ethnic groups united behind to fight against discrimination in the 1970s. But when political blackness was criticised for lumping everyone together under a single label, the term was slowly replaced by BAME. Now, more than 7.6 million people in Britain come under this category.
It is ironic but not at all surprising that a wealth of the arguments waged against political blackness can also be applied to its successor. In an interview with BBC Radio Kent in March, former cabinet minister Priti Patel called the BAME label "patronising", "insulting" and "totally unhelpful". "Everybody wants to be recognised for their individual merits," she argued, and to a certain extent, I agree with her.
The arguably overused term leaves little room for individuality or distinction. I don’t refer to myself as BAME in my day-to-day life, but when I was an aspiring journalist searching for work experience and internships, it was often the term used by companies desperately seeking to diversify their newsrooms. I then faced accusations from my white counterparts that the only reason I was there was because I was from a BAME background. The label has been a catch-22 for me ever since.
Despite being something that was given to me rather than chosen, I disagree that the term BAME is entirely unhelpful. 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" Patel speaks of 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.
I don’t know why black is first…so I am for getting rid of it.
Candice Carty-Williams, a senior marketing executive at Vintage Books and author of the forthcoming novel Queenie, is the creator of the B4ME short story prize. The competition offers black, Asian and minority ethnic writers the chance to win £1,000 along with online publication. Candice said she doesn't feel 100% comfortable using BAME and understands why the term should be phased out. "It’s uncomfortable because 'minority ethnic' covers so many people that it seems reductive to just say," she told Refinery29. "I don’t know why black is first…so I am for getting rid of it."
Wei Ming Kam is the cofounder of BAME in Publishing (a network set up to address the lack of diversity in the industry) and isn’t enamoured with the term either. "I’m not a massive fan of the term, but you do need a general term for ease," she said. "I think I prefer POC, but again that has issues too." A commonality between Candice and Wei Ming is that when they were naming their respective projects, they used BAME not because they wanted to but because it was government terminology. "We’re not all the same and when it comes to actual policies, it’s dangerous to treat ethnic minorities as if we’re homogenous," Wei Ming added. "But for certain situations…we still need a general catch-all."
While acronyms like BAME are useful in some cases, it’s understandable why people dislike being referred to by a term that immediately identifies you as "other". In terms of scrapping it completely though, Wei Ming asks: "What’s the alternative?" Candice prefers "minoritised" ("because we are not a minority people, we have been minoritised"), but she’s hopeful for a future where a label isn’t necessary. "I would like to think that we’re moving towards a point where we don’t need to use the term BAME at all," she said. "The way things are moving, the way relationships are, and the children that come from those relationships, those terms don’t need to be so strictly put into place. It doesn’t need to be BAME people and white people anymore."