The term "BAME"

Hi Everyone,

We are currently writing an equality, diversity and inclusion plan and in that we are setting targets to improve our diversity in respects to staff from ethnic minorities. Throughout the plan we have used the term BAME, however I am aware that this term can be problematic, on top of that we actually want to clarify that we want to improve our diversity in terms of Black, Asian or other ethnic minority staff who may be discriminated against due to the colour of their skin therefore not including white ethnic minorities as we feel that that is where we are unrepresentative of the population where we are based (London). So my question is what are your thoughts on the term BAME? Is there another term that is better? Is there a term that does not include white ethnic minorities in it? I would particularly love to hear from anyone who is BAME and could offer a personal opinion of being referred to by this term, but also just great to hear what terminology other organisations are using?



  • While you wait for some responses I found the attached interesting

  • I cannot think of a term that better sums up the potential universality of the issues being addressed, e.g. disadvantage and discrimination on the basis of ethnic difference.

    I believe that we create yet more challenges to equality and equal treatment when we seek to differentiate between single aspects of difference in identifying minorities, such as in this case by excluding, say, discrimination against the Irish; Polish or "white" Indian, African or Arabian nationals, who might otherwise share all the religious or cultural "differences" of their black or Asian counterparts, and against whom discrimination can be every bit as oppressive and unacceptable.

    For example: Given a "colour aware" diversity policy such as you suggest, how would one determine the criteria to be applied when choosing between a "black" Christian candidate and a "white" Jewish or Muslim one? 

    Removing obstacles to the employment of diverse candidates is not simply a matter of counting heads and balancing diversity in the local population (no matter where that is), it is a matter of appointing the candidate best able to do the job required through, if necessary, making adjustments to the work, contract, workplace facilities and similar issues that would other wise prevent their employment or application (in a similar way to that which applies to the making of "reasonable adjustment" to disability), for it is often at the application stage that candidates feel themselves discriminated against by the absence of integration, and are unwilling to become the "one black face" in an otherwise all-white workplace.

    ....and for the avoidance of doubt: I am not suggesting that no effort is needed to genuinely make appointment "on merit" a level playing field, or doubting that there as a very long and enormously challenging road to be traveled to make our recruitment and working practices processes in which ethnicity and cultural factors are as irrelevant to appointment as a liking for marmite, but what I do believe is that we do not proceed towards true equality by merely creating new minorities or fresh victims identified by no more than their colour, or any other irrelevant "difference".


  • In reply to Peter:

    Crossed with Keith's link

    Taking on board all the comments made in the link, I do not think this alters the utility of the term BAME when one needs to identify, as a whole, those groups who are currently most likely to suffer discrimination or victimisation within (any) cultural setting based on racial difference. However as I hope my comment above makes clear, I share the concerns (not to say irritations) of those featured, because when speaking of an individual no-one is "BAME" (including members of "white" ethnic minorities in this country or elsewhere). We are each a member of our society, but if we choose to identify as a specific racial or cultural grouping within that society, we should have a right to do so without fear or concern that it has any effect on our acceptability to others and without our seeking to make it act in that way.

    "BAME" is a semantic convenience, it is (so far as I can see at the moment, as I suggested above) the best we have to universally address the issues it is relevant to, "overall"; unless someone can think of a better one.

    What I would like to live to see (but very much doubt I will) is the day when any such term is redundant and laughably arcane.


  • In reply to Peter:

    Hi Peter, in response to your first post, targets being set is just one part of the plan which includes a range of aspects to help our organisation progress and become more inclusive for everyone (not just ethnicity) from evidence and recommendations from recent government reports targets are definitely useful. As we have an office in Northern Ireland, if we include white ethnic minorities for example in our BAME statistics we look like a very diverse organisation whereas in reality we are not in terms of for example Black or Asian staff members (in certain positions anyway), therefore that is why we chose the focus I described above. That said it would be very interesting to hear if other organisations are taking the approach ours is and reasons for and against this approach. And also any other/better uses of terminology. Please bear in mind we are a charity of 105 people so resource and capability is probably not what a larger corporate organisation is. Thanks in advance!
  • I can't help you. I listened to a long bit about racial terminology on R4 yesterday afternoon whilst I was driving back from Scotland. Unless I dozed off whilst driving (:-) there appeared to be little if any consensus of the 'right' term or an all inclusive term.
  • In reply to Heather:

    IMHO, 'BAME' is a useful catch-all descriptor, but usually I'd suggest needs to be broken-down into its various components and the numbers analysed ( even if only to note that the cohort involved isn't big enough in number for futher breakdown to be statistically significant - as will often be the case with eg SMEs.)
  • In reply to Heather:

    Thanks for the further information Heather. I do see your problem, but it seems to be statistical, rather than a reason to "unbalance the scales" of true equality in favour of an essentially arbitrary parameter such as colour, especially if that amounts to "anything other then white", disregarding the other minorities that might transcend both black and white (or any other shade of pigmentation).

    As in my example above: Are we any less unfair to a white Muslim candidate if we reject their application in favour of a Black Christian candidate on the grounds of colour, simply because we need to tick the "BAME" box of "non-white"? And how might we justify that if challenged on the grounds of religious discrimination, rather than race? (Given that Islam is also considered a de-facto racial identifier).

    I wish I could offer simple solutions, but I can't. What I can do is voice my own concerns that sometimes we chase the right objectives in the wrong way. However we discriminate, seeking whatever outcome, we will always leave a victim, and a victim will always seek recompense. As expressed in the anger on the streets of America by both black and white protesters.

    I hope you find a solution that proves me wrong. :-)

  • In reply to Heather:

    Hi Heather

    Your organisation might consider simply convening some kind of ‘ Equal Opportunities’ Panel or Group tasked with determining and prioritising and planning in detail how to put your organisation’s broad EO Policy into action. Why not simply consider in this context eg ‘under-represented groups” ? - then, re targets etc, look at the statistically significant differences between the prevalence of these groups in the general population compared with in your particular workforce and based on analysing all that set targets and actions And priorities for fixing Identified disparities. I can’t see that the particular labels or classifications that you give to whatever under represented groups matters very much in this context?
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    18 Jul, 2020 07:59

    With respect to those who have contributed so far (and I do have a lot of respect for them)... I hope this thread attracts a 'diverse' response.

  • In reply to Steve Bridger:

  • And I've just remembered that the programme I listened to, stated clearly that the term BAME is not used by those it attempts to label. Which is what the speakers in Keith's link also said.

    It also reminded me that when I worked in Youth Training in the 1980s one of our trainees who was born locally, had a local accent, identified as being English, only spoke English and had a Scottish father, but, dear or dear, his mother was of asian origin - India I think, but she too had been born in the UK. So our young trainee was mortified and extremely angry when the government agency which funded us (the MSC) compelled us to describe his ethnicity as "Asian......", or something similar. This completely excluded his all his father's own racial origins in Scotland.

    Isn't this a case of 'us', wanting/needing a label for 'them'?
  • In reply to David Perry:

    I feel the difficulty is that the term is being used to address an issue (racism in all its forms) that itself treats collectively colour, nationality, (assumed) belief, and other aspects of genetic and cultural origin, dividing those characteristics from the equally generalising term "white".

    My Children are 25% German, 25% Anglo-Saxon/Norman-French (English), 45% (or thereabouts) Scottish-Celt, and a detectable part of the remainder Scandinavian. So are they Europeans? English? (having being born in Sussex), Germans? British? Scottish? Viking? Norwegian?...or What?

    No: They would be generically termed: "White" in any generalised discussion relating to their race.

    So could they not be the equivalent of the speakers on the link Keith posed? I suggest most certainly they could: Arguing that their national origins (or those they chose from the mixture) identified them, and not the generic term: "White".

    In this country we have (rightly) ceased using the terms once used for those whose racial origins were West-African, we still accept the collective cultural term used for their intermediate "homeland" in the West Indies, but that identification becomes complicated by many "white" one time-emigres' decedents (English and French particularly) sharing that same generic "West-Indian" label. So in overall discussion of the two "sides" that racism falsely separates, exactly how do we (any of us, of any colour, nationality, or any other relevant "difference") refer to the falsely-significant division other than as "White" and.... "Something else". (Assuming that recording each group's full list of genetic and/or cultural origins.... including those confusingly shared, like West-Indian or South African... is accepted as impractical)

    BAME is a convenient acronym; it isn't a pleasant word, it isn't a stereotypical label describing an individual (accurately or at all) other than as non-white and/or a member of an ethnic minority (including therefore a potentially "white" minority).

    It is a means to an end, and a desirable end. It is a neutral collection of letters that would not exist at all if there were not people (like I hope all here or reading this) who want to resolve the historic and utterly unjustified false "differences" that have been created, or assumed to exist, for the past 400 years or more between "White" Europeans and "other races" of different colour or physical appearance, including the Near-Eastern slave traders who used to raid the coasts of Britain and Ireland for their victims, before members of those communities joined their sickening trade to prey on West-African cultures instead.

    I don't like the term "BAME" any more than I like the term "White" as a stereotype of who I am, or who my Children are, or who my Grandchildren will grow to be, but if we are to make stumbling blocks of such issues, then how many more generations will it be before we actually resolve the real question of who is superior: Those who like Marmite, or those who do not?

    Because that question really is as relevant to anything significant about the differences between us as is the difference between my skin colour and that of any other person on this planet, or as is the fact I often sign off my postings here with a simple "P" because I don't like the shortened form of my name "Pete" which some people insist on using (in the kindly intended belief it is friendly) if they know I am a "Peter".

    If there is a better, and universally inoffensive term, then let's use that instead, but let's meanwhile agree that there are people of goodwill who want to resolve the reasons for these terms existing at all and get on with those discussions to make them redundant, regardless of the semantic side-arguments about the collective nouns themselves.


  • Hi Heather and All,

    Yes, I agree that it would be good to get the views of non-white participants. I thought the video clip Keith shared provided some insights.

    Years ago BAME started off as 'Black', and that became Black and Minority Ethnic, that in turn became BAME to include the Asian community. Compare this to LGBT, that became LGBTQ => LGBTQI => LGBTQIA => LGBTQIAP. The latest iteration is LGBTQIAPK. I am not sure that dividing our society up into a range of acronyms to on the one hand be politically correct and on the other capture every category of a society that self-identifies is particularly helpful. Keep the plan sincere and meaningful.

    The other problem with BAME I believe, is that the 'M' (minority) is out of date. Take certain areas of London, for example, non-white skinned people are in the majority. Doesn't labelling non-white people as 'minority' have overtones of being a victim? Why would anyone want to have that label? Won't it only compound the problem and inappropriately make them feel second-class citizens?

    Let's not lose sight of the key issue here - inclusion and fairness. Use labels, if necessary, to help measure the problem of discrimination and prejudice in relation to the sections of the workforce and population that you are concerned about, but leave it at that. Acronyms will always leave some feeling excluded.

    Heather, what sort of targets did you have in mind? That might help shed light on how you might best describe your people.
  • In reply to Tom:

    Any title for anything leaves some people feeling excluded. Lets get rid of the problem and then we won't need the discussion about titles.
  • Well, aren't we a lot of white folk discussing this?

    To address the OP, had you considered asking the relevant employees? It seems that part of the problem in addressing historic inequities in this area is that the people with power and authority (usually white and male) have taken unto themselves the responsibility for deciding on "the right thing to do".

    If employers want to demonstrate a genuine desire to promote a better working environment for minority ethnic groups in their workforce, then the first step might well be to surrender that responsibility to the people with actual experience of being a minority group.

    If you don't have enough affected employees who might be willing to take a lead, then the organisation might reluctantly do so, but with regular reviews to ensure that leadership in the issue is passed to the place it belongs as soon as possible.

    Beware, however, of letting such a group become nothing more than a fig leaf to inaction. Its reports and recommendations need to be visible at Board level.