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The Problematic Nature Of The Term ‘BAME’

BAME"bame" by wallsdontlie is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Jenna Colaco 14 July 2020


The term ‘BAME’ encompasses the groups Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. It is, quite simply, a synonym for ‘not white’. The homogenisation of all ethnic minority groups into one acronym can be a very problematic lens in considering matters of diversity. It teaches that everyone non-white is the ‘other’ without much reflection on the multitude of differences between these groups. It is also used to brush over the need to tackle the different challenges affecting individual minority groups.

Jenna Colaco (Photographer: Sofia Blanchard Photography)

The ‘BAME’ label is consistently used as a checkbox on various forms to measure diversity statistics, especially in professional and educational environments. The label doesn’t always come with a section to expand on how you fall under this category resulting in circumstances where a group of people could collectively be referred to as ‘BAME’ without a black person even in the group. The box-ticking nature that comes along with the term ‘BAME’ consistently results in a deficit of deep thought into representation in education, professional environments and the media. If the term ‘BAME’ can be used for all non-white people, there is less incentive to ensure more thorough representation of the different groups encompassed under the label.


A recent example of how ‘‘BAME’ has been used as a shield to hide a lack of diversity would be when Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, was asked during an appearance on Sky News how many black people there were in the current Cabinet, he responded: ‘Well, there’s a whole series of people from a black and minority ethnic background. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary to name but two.’ It is important to note that both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary are Asian, not black. The use of the term ‘BAME’ was used as a synonym for diversity without acknowledging that the question asked was about black people specifically. The term ‘BAME’ is not always useful in matters pertaining to race because the homogenisation of ethnic minorities means that the struggles of individual groups are not properly addressed, such as the lack of a single black person in the current Cabinet. The broadcaster Sophy Ridge, who interviewed Hancock, presented these facts to him: black people are 3 times more likely to get stopped and searched than Asians and 62% of Indian pupils got strong passes in both English and Maths at GCSE compared to 27% of Black Caribbean students.

The difference in statistics between Asian and black people show the term ‘BAME’ to be inadequate when considering how to tackle racial issues. The four-letter acronym does not help to address the disparity in experiences of individual ethnic minority groups. As a British Indian woman, I am keenly aware that racism affects me but understand that it affects black women in a very different way. Thus, the ‘BAME’ label imposes limits on race discussions and people’s perceptions of the many cultural identities that exist within our society.

The Problematic Nature Of The Term ‘BAME’ is a Boundless Ideas commission for 15-25 year olds to write opinion led pieces that speak to themes of Politics, Identity and Theatre.

Jenna Colaco is a student journalist who currently studies Classics and English at the University of Oxford. She has been published in student publications such as The Cherwell, Right for Education and That Oxford Girl. She has written pieces on student life at university, interview experiences and tips for managing lockdown as a student. She is passionate about access into higher education and ensuring that all ethnic minority voices and perspectives are heard through mainstream media.