Plocation of the report Boris Johnson’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities should have been a landmark moment in the UK conversation on race. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, it seemed that the government might finally recognize the impact of institutional racism in creating disparities in health care, education, and criminal justice.
Except it wasn’t. The report took a complacent tone, noting that Britain’s success in eliminating racial disparities in education and the economy “should be seen as a model for other majority white countries.” With few real issues to address then, the commission title proposal it was about removing the term “useless” BAME.
While many, including Halima Begum, CEO of the Runnymede Trust, rightly rejected the symbolic move: “Britain’s ethnic minority communities are being insulted by this report,” Begum said, the proposal reflects long-standing sentiment from that we need a new language to talk about race.
Words matter, and especially when it comes to identity. Britain’s ethnic minority communities have had a number of labels since migration from the “new commonwealth” really began in the 1950s and 1960s. Then, to immigrants from British colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the South Asia were generally given the general term “colored”.
The shared experience of racial discrimination in postcolonial Britain made solidarity between communities possible and necessary, and by the late 1970s the movement for racial equality in Britain had widely adopted an inclusive definition of “Negro” that encompassed to people from both African countries and heritage from South Asia.
However, by the early 1990s, the size and composition of Britain’s ethnic minority community had changed enough to make continued use of the word black unfeasible. In 1994, the sociologist Tariq Modood published Political blackness and British Asians, in which he argued that the already waning term hurt Asians by suggesting a “false essentialism: that all non-white groups have something in common besides how others treat them.”
By the late 1990s, political blackness had been largely discarded in favor of more specific definitions that combined national, continental, ethnic, and racial; the 2001 census included separate categories for “Mixed”, “Black”, “Asian” and “Chinese or Other”. The extent to which Modood’s case against “blacks” resembles the arguments given for eliminating BAME is surprising, and the authors of the racial report suggest that the blanket term does not adequately reflect the experiences of different ethnic communities.
As with “black,” critics of BAME are right to highlight the term’s shortcomings: it feels awkward and artificial while implying that all ethnic minorities are part of a homogeneous group. Besides, it has never been good for him. ethnic minorities themselves. In fact, BAME has been a particularly unsuccessful candidate for widespread adoption. According to Google Trends, searches for “BAME” skyrocketed in April 2020, likely due to its frequent use to report Covid health disparities. The fact that it is already in the trash shows that the term was never really fit for purpose.
With BAME unloved and about to disappear, the question now is what should replace it, exactly?
Well, the search is on. Last week the British Future thinktank published a blog post (Beyond BAME) observing how they would like people to be referred to. Their research found that the majority of ethnic minority Britons slightly prefer “ethnic minority” as a blanket term, with two-thirds (68%) saying they support or accept the term and only 13% oppose.
While the ethnic minority is probably a step in the right direction (it has the advantage over BAME of using real words), we cannot expect a consensus around a single term. This should be kept in mind when thinking about the alternatives: a list that includes, but is not limited to, “people of color” (too American and has the potential to be confused with “people of color”), “non-white” (too negative: no one will identify with the state of not being white), and even BIPOC (Like BAME but longer, and what does the ‘I’, which means indigenous, refer to in a British context?).
BAME is not inherently problematic, there is only one inherent problem in a catch-all given the complexity of how we categorize race. As Angela Saini, author of Superior: the Return of Race Science, explains, race is a social construct, and therefore the words we use to talk about it reflect a specific sociocultural context. For example, “Asian” in the US and UK generally refers to ethnic communities other than East and South Asia, respectively.
BAME, like “black” and “color” before, was doomed because it is impossible to distill centuries of history and culture into one useful acronym. Consequently, names will continue to be collected and discarded as the form and composition of Britain’s BAME community continues to evolve.
Yes, words matter, and it is really important that companies and public bodies do not use offensive or unintelligible terms, but when it comes to categorizing Britain’s ethnic minorities, no fancy solution will be found because there is no fancy solution. . The point is not to get too bogged down in finding terminology that perfectly captures one’s identity, but to identify the ways in which people, by virtue of their race, citizenship or ethnicity, are at a systemic disadvantage in Britain and correct these injustices. .
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism