From BAME to ‘Ethnic Minority in Britain’ – a changing approach to ethnic disparities

No single policy intervention will ‘fix’ the structural inequalities that lie behind this ethnic and racial disparity. However, one place to start could be in agreeing on a more effective framing of this whole theme. As the summer of protests demonstrated in 2020, the language we currently possess when it comes to talking about race and racism is emotive. Understandably so, this matters to many Britons as it speaks to the fundamental fairness of British society.

In that effort, my suggestion would be to discard the confused acronym BAME and instead use the formulation ‘Ethnic Minority in Britain’, EMB for short. Beyond this linguistic shift, the aim would be to better align how public bodies and government talk about race and ethnicity with how it is lived in Britain.

The substance of this approach would differ from the current one in three main ways. Firstly, it would signal a shift away from thinking about ‘communities.’ Life is not experienced in the aggregate, so talk of BAME communities (or for example ‘the Asian Community’) can only go so far. The language used to talk about ethnic disparities in Britain should reflect the individual and their immediate environment. Failure to do so can encourage the impression that these are essentialised traits of these apparent communities.

Instead of thinking of these communities of identity, I would suggest the focus should be on physical communities. Parts of major cities, that have seen particularly high incidence of COVID-19 related deaths, also happen to be home to many ethnic minorities in Britain. These geographic communities perhaps tell us more about the types of inequalities that led to the disproportionate deaths seen amongst ethnic minorities in Britain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Secondly the use of EMB would allow the notion of ‘whiteness’ to be separate from that of being an ethnic minority. By decoupling black and Asian from the term, it would be an important signal that visible difference is not the sole determinant of being an EMB. It would be hoped that this sort of decoupling would encourage a move away from a concept such as white privilege. This has gained increased prominence recently in mainstream discourse, even though it is a contested term. While many people in Britain may find this term explains their situation, it privileges visible, racial, difference above all else. Ethnicity in modern Britain is a more complicated construct, and reducing in such a way does not serve those who most need attention. Ethnic minorities in Britain do not map neatly onto simplistic ideas about whiteness and non-whiteness, as BAME can be interpreted as suggesting. Moreover, the language that the government and public bodies use matters as these issues have proved to be of acute public importance and interest.

Thirdly, by focusing on this new conceptualisation, it is hoped that a plethora of policies could accompany this innovation. These would be aimed at fixing the perceived ‘fairness deficit’ in British society. One example could be mandated name blind CVs for job applications of certain grades. Studies have shown how people with names which appear to be from an ethnic minority are less likely to be offered an interview for a job. Extending this to hiding the names of universities and higher education establishments on CVs for these applications could be an effective way of enshrining fairness at the heart of the post-COVID-19 recovery, regardless of ethnic background. By foregrounding fairness, some of the confrontational nature of these types of conversations could be defused. Employers could be encouraged to follow these types of practices via a scheme that certified companies and bodies according to their recruitment processes.

The overall aim of moving away from BAME, would be to stop othering parts of British society as somehow constitutionally different. Instead, using this EMB approach, the focus would be on individual experiences and obstacles with a stress on achieving a fair British society.




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