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‘Don’t call me BAME’: Why some people are rejecting the term

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Media captionFour people from different backgrounds discuss the term ‘BAME'”‘Don’t worry, you’ll do well because you’re BAME,’ ‘BAME is the new trend,’ ‘Everyone is looking for a BAME actor to add to their books.'”When 24-year-old Nicole Miners first heard the term – which stands for black, Asian and minority ethnic – she was at drama school.”Being a British East Asian actor, or just a person, this was something that really aggravated me,” she says. “The ‘A’ in ‘BAME’ means Asian, which, in itself, is a very broad term. Does it mean ‘South Asian’, ‘East Asian’, ‘South East Asian’, ‘Indian’, ‘Pakistani’, ‘Chinese’, ‘Thai’, ‘Vietnamese’? The list goes on. “It misleads people into thinking that everyone who isn’t white English should come under the term ‘BAME’. And on top of that, I’m mixed, which, for me, is even more confusing.”

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Nicole Miners

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‘I have a typical English name, but I don’t look white English… so I have to explain I’m half English and half Chinese,’ says Nicole

The initialism – and the acronym, “Bame” – has been growing in prominence in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the world and a report into the backgrounds of those at higher risk of dying with Covid-19. But many people say it does more harm than good.Student Tosin Attah, 20, from the West Midlands, first heard it at university, in London, where there were “BAME officers”. But she would never use it about herself, likening it to the word “coloured”.”I mean, it was a white term, if we’re being honest,” she says. “White people made it so they don’t have to say ‘black’, because they feel weird saying black for some reason. “I feel like ‘BAME’ is just their safe word to not come off as racist.”Professor Ted Cantle, who chairs cohesion and integration charity Belong, says the origin of the term goes back to the 60s and 70s when people referred to the ‘black community’.”But, gradually, people said, ‘Well, the Asian community is not represented’ so it became ‘black and Asian’. “Then, it was pointed out there were other minority ethnic groups in the country as well. So it became ‘BME [black and minority ethnic]’. But not all of those minority ethnic groups were black. So it became ‘BAME’.”He says although, on the face of it, the term “does lump a lot of minorities together”, in practical terms, that is not always the case.”We often find that a particular organisation or institution wouldn’t actually just focus on that broad BAME group. They would try and break it down. “So if it was a school for example, identifying which particular children needed support, they would look at black Caribbeans, perhaps the Chinese community, or Eastern Europeans who didn’t have English as the first language. “They would, in other words… target it towards particular needs.”But the practical use of the term isn’t always felt by those who are labelled with it.

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Eshaan Akbar

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‘I would like to be given the opportunity to be identified as British with South Asian decent,’ says Eshaan

“I hate the term ‘BAME’, ‘people of colour’, all these labels,” says comedian Eshaan Akbar, 35. “They don’t define me. “My experience as a British person who is half Bangladeshi and half Pakistani is very different to a British black male or any other Asian.” Using “BAME” is misleading, he says, and a way for the authorities not to deal with individuals from a community. “During the pandemic, in the news all I could hear was the ‘BAME community’ were the most affected by the illness but this was misleading.”During the Black Lives Matter protests, ‘BAME’ popped up yet again.”But many Muslim Asians felt that issues happening in their community were being ignored.”The only thing I know we definitely have in common with other people in the ‘BAME’ group is that we all have really good food.”

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Virgil Hawkins

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Rapper Virgil Hawkins prefers the phrase “blackity black”

South London rapper Virgil Hawkins says he recognises BAME can be good for administrative reasons “like when you’re trying to discern certain trends. But I think it’s a cold and really official term.”He says black people face unique difficulties other minorities might not, such as stereotypes about black men being “threatening”.Online, some people are rejecting the BAME label by referring to themselves as not just black but “blackity black”.”I support it,” Hawkins says.”I completely support it, because the message they’re trying to convey is, ‘Listen, I’m black, I have black issues and there’s not really any intersectionality, because in the past, historically, there hasn’t been any.'”I think it’s people who are tired of fighting every fight. But then when it comes to black issues, no-one’s there for them.”

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Pamela Bisson

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‘I’d rather be called various names depending on the situation’, Pamela says

Pamela Bisson, chief executive of Weirdos and Creatives Production says the term BAME has been put together to tick a box in the workplace.But “it’s not going to save or change a legacy of micro-aggressions or a dispassionate understanding of different cultures”.She says she was taken aback by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, when asked how many black people were in the cabinet, replied, ‘We have a diversity of thought.’ “What does that even mean?””It was shocking to hear this. It showcased how the term ‘BAME’, which was created by the government, is still not understood.” As a British Brazilian, “I’d rather be called various names depending on the situation”, Pamela says. “Life isn’t so black and white”.Zamila Bunglawala wrote in a blog when she was deputy director of the Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit that a study of nearly 300 people across the UK had found only a couple recognised the terms BAME and BME and only one knew, vaguely, what they stood for.”There is also a problem in that the terms BAME and BME aren’t always associated with white ethnic minorities such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage groups, which we know are among some of our most marginalised and disadvantaged communities,” she said.”To leave these communities out of the very language we use is to marginalise them even further.”

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Raifa Rafiq

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Raifa Rafiq hosts a podcast about books and pop culture

Raifa Rafiq, 27, a lawyer and podcaster from London, says she doesn’t necessarily have a problem with the term BAME, but says the label is too often used to group individuals together “almost as if the type of oppression and the issues that they face are on a level playing field, which I don’t think is true”.”When it comes to racial discrimination you have anti-blackness in the Asian community and anti-blackness within the Arab community. “So when you group a group like that together, you’re really erasing the fact that men and women within the black community also suffer at the hands of these other persons of colour,” she says.Vanessa Azabe, 19, who grew up in Plymouth, with Rwandan parents, says “BAME” is very “othering”. As the only black girl in her class, she always felt uncomfortable but now feels it is time to have an open discussion about racism. “Yes it may be an uncomfortable conversation to have but imagine how uncomfortable it is to live through it,” she says. “We as young people in society have a responsibility to keep the flame burning. We must become the change we are dying to see.” And the solution is to get rid of ethnicity categories altogether. “There is no need to call me ‘BAME’,” she says. “Just call me ‘Vanessa’.”

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