Many of us have heard the term 'BAME', which has been used in the UK for years to describe people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. However, the phrase is problematic.
The UK Government published its response to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report in March 2022 and set out a series of commitments to tackle inequality in the UK. One of those commitments was to stop using the term 'BAME' in government.
We're looking at the challenges with the term 'BAME', the benefits of changing it and the language we should use instead.
Language matters: the masking effect of 'BAME'
When writing about race and ethnicity, the use of language is important. Especially when highlighting the differences in outcomes between groups. The term 'BAME' is generally used to group all ethnic minorities together, which makes it hard to identify issues that affect specific ethnic groups.
For example, educational attainment varies across ethnic groups. If we just look at this from a 'BAME' perspective, we cannot see specific issues.
This isn't a good outcome for anyone. In 2019, children in state-funded schools from Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi backgrounds achieved strong passes in English and Maths GCSE. If we look at GCSE grades from a 'BAME' perspective, we cannot see which groups are over-performing, which groups are falling behind and why.
This makes it difficult to measure the success or failure of interventions in any meaningful way.
Aside from creating one group of people and dismissing specific problems, the term ‘BAME’ does not cover all ethnicities. The term emphasises Black and Asian backgrounds but does not break this down further - such as Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Chinese or Pakistani. It also has the effect of excluding certain ethnic minority groups such as Gypsy, Roma, Mixed Heritage, Turkish, Kurdish, Arab and North African Arabs. Sadly, all of these groups have faced some form of racial discrimination but the terminology does not create room for that to be addressed.
Shifting towards inclusion
Research has shown that many people from ethnic minority backgrounds do not like the term 'BAME'. The study showed that people from ethnic minorities are 3 times more likely to agree than disagree that the term 'BAME' is unhelpful.
The term has the effect of grouping everyone together and is often used to describe individuals that are 'non-white'. This can reinforce division.
Primarily, my own experiences with the ‘BAME’ terminology have not been very positive. I believe it singles out instead of creating inclusion. My own Turkish Kurdish background is not as recognised as ‘Black’ or ‘Asian’ which does not help raise awareness about our injustices and persistent disparities. - Dilan
What should we use instead?
The UK Government's Racial Disparity Unit issued guidance about how the government will write about ethnicity. The guidance concluded that best practice is to refer to ethnic minority groups individually, rather than as a single group.
Using more precise language helps to identify exactly what the issues are, who they are affect, why and how well solutions are working.
If wide groupings are needed, it is better to refer to 'ethnic minorities’ or ‘people from ethnic minority backgrounds’, instead of BAME.