· 2 min read · Comment

The BBC has dropped the acronym BAME – should you?

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If you are so used to saying the same words over and over again, the frequency of their use becomes truisms.

With that we never explore meaning, context and why certain phrases are used over others. We fail to question the origins of how people who don’t fit the accepted standards of society are labeled, not according to how they identify but according to what’s palatable and convenient for the majority.

BAME stands for black Asian minority ethnic. It’s one of those ‘truisms’ that was created by people with the authority to make unilateral decisions about the identity of others, without them even being in the room. This is the ultimate definition of power and privilege.


More on inclusive terms:

Is using umbrella terms such as BAME, LGBT+ and disabled hindering inclusion efforts?

Businesses reduce the use of BAME over racism concerns

HR and race in the workplace

Are performative allies blocking your progress towards race equity? 


The BAMEs

If ever there was an acronym that was disliked by anyone who was encapsulated by this, it’s BAME. It’s a lazy term that others, marginalises, excludes and reduces anyone who isn’t white, into one homogenous label for ease, comfort and convenience.

Even when the Black Lives Matter protests swept the globe in the summer of 2020, conversations about language and how words perpetuate racist ideology were rife. In many instances, the wishes of those who come under this label, this acronym were ignored.

BAME leadership programmes.

BAME recruitment.

Attracting BAME talent.

BAME accelerators.

It was never about the wishes of the people and despite our protestations, some organisations and vendors clung to the acronym because it worked well for search engine optimisation (SEO). It was a common and accepted term by corporates and public institutions and did it really matter if many found the term reductive and offensive?

 

Redefining appropriateness

When drafting corporate communications, we define appropriateness according to what’s palatable to the business. And what’s palatable to the business is often driven by a dominant majority who determine what words are used and why.  

Scrutinising your language choices and learning to pull apart the equity meaning, the social conventions fixed in your language can tactically disrupt racial inequity within your organisation. 

Take a moment to consider both how did the social conventions within my words and within my company’s communications come to be and why are we uncomfortable with using certain words and more comfortable with others? What is the unintended consequence of that?

BAME

BAME was (yes, past tense) a term never created nor endorsed by those of us who it was crudely applied to. It’s time to consign it to the history books.

Concerned about what to use instead? My advice is three-fold.

Be specific.  If you are talking about black people, say so. It shows you acknowledge that our experiences are different to other racialised communities.

Always ask colleagues how they would prefer to be identified. Centre their wishes and understand the context of why asking and giving them a voice is crucial for building a racially just organisation.

If you must use it, put it in inverted commas and include a footnote to show you are aware that it is not an accepted term.

Global majority

If you must use a catch-all phrase for anyone who isn’t white, I prefer to use the term global majority.

It was used often in the 1960s and 1970s by pan-Africanist writers, and brought into prominence in the UK by educator Rosemary Campbell-Stephens MBE. It refers to people who are black, Asian, brown, dual-heritage, indigenous to the global south, and/or have been racialised as ‘ethnic minorities’, BAME, ‘visible minorities’ or  ‘people of colour’. In short, it covers some of the terms used to define all non-white people that normalise white and consider everyone else as ‘diverse’ and not normal.

Global majority, as well as being statistically valid, is a term of empowerment and refuses the deficit narrative of black people. 

I am well aware this will make some people feel very uncomfortable. And that’s okay because discomfort is part of growth.

 

Shereen Daniels is managing director of HR rewired and was ranked top of the HR Most Influential Thinker's list 2021