Black, Asian, and minority ethnic, also known as “BAME,” is an umbrella term, common in the United Kingdom, used to describe non-white ethnicities.
Over the years, more and more people have spoken out against the term for the way it groups numerous ethnicities together, stripping them of their individual identities.
By excluding white ethnicities, it also gives the idea that whiteness is at the center of society and all ethnicities exist as an “other.”
Here’s what the letters in “BAME” stand for:
“Black” tends to mean a person of African or Caribbean descent.
It’s also used to highlight the collective oppression Black people and other ethnic groups have faced throughout history and continue to face today.
“Asian” refers to anyone of Asian descent, covering South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.
“Minority ethnic” is often used to describe every other non-white ethnic group.
However, individual people can have diverse cultural backgrounds, so it’s always important to use terms that accurately reflect how they feel.
“BAME” isn’t a new term.
In fact, it derived from the U.K.’s anti-racist movement in the 1970s when communities united to fight discrimination.
At first, the term “BME” was used to reflect Blackness and other ethnicities.
In the 1990s, the “A” was added to represent Asian people.
You may have seen BAME mentioned in workplace inclusivity schemes or government research.
The term is often used when measuring diversity or making comparisons to a white population.
Plus, it’s common in media lists or corporate programs focused on increasing overall diversity in certain industries.
This lumping together of various ethnic groups has led to confusion and misleading statements.
For example, saying that the BAME community was disproportionately affected by COVID-19 may have led people to think that all non-white groups were included.
In reality, statistics showed that Black and South Asian people, in particular, were more likely to contract the virus, most likely due to socioeconomic and healthcare inequities.
Stripping multiple ethnicities of their individualities is one of the main criticisms of an umbrella term like BAME.
Black, Asian, Arab, and other ethnic groups only share a non-white skin color.
Everything else — from their cultures and experiences to the inequalities that they face — is different and deserves separate attention.
Not to mention that many people don’t refer to themselves as BAME, but instead choose to reference their specific identity.
They may also feel “othered” by the use of such a term that suggests that whiteness is the default.
If you’re talking about collective statistics or making comparisons to white populations, BAME can be a useful term.
In everyday life, you should make an effort to refer to people by their specific identity, whether that’s Black, Pakistani, or something else.
If BAME is used in writing, always write it in full the first time so that readers are aware of its true meaning.
Remember that any kind of umbrella term can erase a sense of individuality.
So although other acronyms such as people of color (POC) exist, it’s always best to be specific when referring to an ethnic group.
For example, say Black people, Indian people, and so on.
However, if you need a general term when talking about collective groups or need to save space when writing online, acronyms can prove useful.
Always avoid terminology that implies that one ethnicity is less important than another.
“Minority” can be problematic for this very reason — and also for the fact that it may be inaccurate to call a particular ethnic group a minority in certain areas.
Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) is sometimes preferred as it separates certain ethnicities and steers away from marginalization.
Most importantly, always think about whether you need to refer to a person’s ethnicity when speaking or writing.
If it’s not relevant, there’s no need to mention it.
The following resources can help you dive deeper into the importance of inclusive language:
It’s vital to use terms that accurately reflect the way people think and feel about themselves.
More often than not, this will involve swapping outdated umbrella acronyms for specific terminology.
Remember that acknowledging diversity is the key to allowing all voices to be heard and to creating positive change.
Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraine, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.