Racial and ethnic disparities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic

During the height of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, the Prime Minister drew attention to the ‘disproportionate price’ that ‘BAME communities’ had paid during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister’s words were buttressed by various reports, including from Public Health England, that ‘after accounting for the effect of sex, age, deprivation and region’, nearly all ethnic minority groups had a substantially increased risk of death from COVID-19.

While the Prime Minister’s use of the phrase ‘BAME communities’ may seem jarring, it reflects the standard practice across many public bodies and institutions. Nevertheless, BAME is a peculiar construction, combining a racial identity (black) with a regional description (Asian) and then followed by a gesture towards ethnicity. Standard use of this acronym has effectively become a more acceptable way to say ‘non-white’ – combining a vast diversity of people into one block.

This has two effects:

• Firstly, it solidifies ‘non-white’ and ‘white’ as two distinct categories. From here, contested terms such as ‘white privilege’ can become accepted as fact.

• Secondly, and relatedly, it excludes many groups in Britain, such as British Jews, on account of their perceived whiteness.

Britain is already more advanced when it comes to this type of data collection than most other countries in Europe with a comparable imperial history. This is to be welcomed: many European countries do not collect information about racial and ethnic identities. As both PHE and the ONS have shown, racial and ethnic inequalities exist in Britain and refusing to talk about them does not make them go away. This underlines the need for an appropriate language and framing of this issue on the part of government and public bodies. This would entail an approach that can both accurately reflect people’s lives in Britain while also respecting how they may




%d bloggers like this: