Is BAME the correct term to be using?

22nd July 2022

Recently we hosted our new Culture Shocks podcast with Don John, Southampton’s Race & Diversity Consultant, to discuss the usage of the term BAME. Culture Shocks is our new series that will be used to discuss topics that affect different ethnic groups. This blog will go into the history of BAME, why it is not the best term to use, and what could be a better approach to identify race and ethnicities. 

What is BAME? 

BAME is an acronym for Black Asian Minority Ethnic. The term is an umbrella term that describes non-white ethnicities. As mentioned in the podcast, before the 1990s, the term was BME (Black Minority Ethnic), and after the 1990s, Asian was added to the acronym. In the last ten years, the government has brought this term up a lot more. 

‘There’s a phrase that many people may be familiar with it’s ‘What’s in a name’. A name is very important as it gives you some understanding of the subject matter. Certainly, when it comes to people of different races, people who were discernibly different, with regards to the colour or complexion of their skin, I think primarily back in the 50s, they were all termed as black, John says. During the 50s and 60s, the term ‘black’ applied to people no matter if they were from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, or Africa. There are different interpretations of what is ‘black’, and John discusses how black has been seen as a political terminology often associated with groups like the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter. This terminology groups people who are looking for different things; however, they may share one thing in common: they may have been discriminated against. 

Is BAME the best term to be using?

Predominantly the problem with the term BAME is that it is a catchall. John mentions that each group has issues relating to their culture and country. ‘People from the Indian sub-continent saw issues of immigration more important to them, while people from the Caribbean saw issues of the criminal justice system and education more important,’ he says. It’s too wide of a phrase that is open to different interpretations. We often change the use of language to align with varying circumstances in the world and use terms like BAME to prove specific points. An example is when the police use BAME to say what percentage of people are non-white. This doesn’t provide us with accurate insights into diversity and allows businesses to hide in this terminology.

BAME removes and alters people’s heritage by grouping them. Those from the Caribbean have different issues than those from Poland.  As John discusses, some people fall under BAME and have no problems or have dealt with racism previously. BAME strips people of their identity. 

What could be a better approach? 

John suggests the best way is to reach out to the group individually rather than using blanket terminology. He recommends that if you are talking about African people, then say African; if you are talking about the Caribbean people, then call them Caribbean. Don’t hide behind BAME as it ostracises people. 

It is essential to decide if the racial or ethnic background of the person is a relevant discussion. John’s critical point is that if you don’t need to use race in a description, then don’t use it. When trying to market products or services to different ethnic groups, it is imperative to discuss how they wish to be defined. It is tough to create generic terms to define people by their race or ethnicity. 

‘Everybody is different hence the term BAME isn’t useful’, and as marketeers, we need to be aware of this, educate ourselves about the difference in ethnicity – as we would any other demographic and address that in our comms. That’s what we do at GottaBe! by engaging with people from ethnic backgrounds, with lived experience that you will hear from through this content as Culture Shocks is dropped. It is also what we practice with our clients when we utilise data insight into behaviour, motivation, and brand discovery nuances across different cultures in order to inform channel and messaging decisions.

If your brand would like assistance with ethnic outreach, then contact the team to discuss your options. 

Let's see how we can work together