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BAME is past its sell-by date

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4 min read

This catch-all term won’t do. Britain’s non-White population comes from a vast array of backgrounds. We must recognise – and tackle – their differing experiences of discrimination

It’s time to end the use of the word ‘BAME’. In the UK this term encompasses millions and millions of people from dozens and dozens of different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds with vastly different experiences of discrimination and life in the UK. The term simply isn’t fit for use and is well past its sell-by date.

The emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement has given us the perfect moment to listen, pause and think about the language we use and just how important it is that we get it right.

The fact is that overuse of the term BAME erases the identity of millions of people and incorrectly conflates different experiences and issues. The last census showed there were over eight million people in the UK who considered themselves to be non-white from a vast array of backgrounds, including people of Caribbean heritage, the Bangladeshi diaspora, people of Nigerian heritage and countless others.

These different cultural, ethnic and religious groups have incredibly different experiences of life in the UK and to conflate them simply reduces these millions of people to the ‘other’. It distances us from the real lived experiences of these groups and turns the fight against racism into a box-ticking exercise. BAME becomes a byword for disadvantage, and discrimination, and the tackling of BAME issues becomes a chore.

You cannot design policies that reduce discrimination against BAME people because there is no such thing as a BAME person

While Tory MPs are frequently able to remember exactly what prestigious private school their colleagues attended, their over-reliance on the term BAME suggests they are unable or unwilling to pay the same courtesy to millions of people’s different cultures, ethnicities and religious backgrounds. This is not only dismissive but lazy.

Policymakers are able to use BAME as a crutch that allows them to appear to have addressed ‘ethnic minority’ concerns and the concerns of anti-racist campaigners without having to get their hands dirty and actually focus on the different forms of racism experienced by different groups in this country. The diverse and insidious nature of discrimination and racism is one reason it is so difficult to tackle, and something that we need to recognise, but which the term BAME fails to.

The fact is that over-reliance on the concept of BAME, in politics especially, leads to bad decision-making. You simply cannot design policies that effectively reduce discrimination against BAME people because there is no such thing as a BAME person.

Statistics collected under the BAME banner tell us little about the diverse experiences of individuals within that group. The BAME umbrella is simply so big that it is useless.

It is, of course, incredibly important that we collect accurate statistics about discrimination – and it is for that very reason that the term BAME is so troubling. To successfully tackle systemic racism in the UK we need to look at how different groups face different forms of discrimination. If we fail to do that, our ability to tackle discrimination will continue to be inhibited.

This is not about suggesting an alternative to the term BAME; it’s time to stop imposing labels from above. The Black Lives Matter movement has demonstrated that the way forward is to listen to marginalised and discriminated-against groups.

I’ve done just that through my local ‘Edmonton Black Lives Matter Charter’. In creating this, I’ve listened to constituents, charities, community organisations, schools and others about their experiences and how we can best tackle racism moving forward. A key theme that emerged was a dislike of the word BAME and the extent to which people feel dismissed when it is used.

We now need to listen to that feeling, start recognising the differing experiences of groups who are discriminated against in the UK, and use this moment to end BAME for good.


Kate Osamor is Labour and Co-operative MP for Edmonton.

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