What does BAME mean?

Key details

Date: 9th Aug 2021

Author: Blueprint for All

Type: Blog

BAME is an acronym which stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. The term is most commonly used in the UK where it embraces the varied experiences of more than 7.6 million people. It covers those of African, Caribbean, South American, South Asian and East Asian descent (plus many more).

The history of an acronym

Originally coined, BME in the 1970s when people came together to fight racism and discrimination that was particularly prevalent within Black communities; the ‘A’ was added in the 1990s to specifically represent Asian people (South and East).

More recently the term BAME has been used by politicians and workplaces when talking about diversity and inclusion. While the inception of the term BAME came from a place of unification in the present-day context it now has limitations.

Modern use of the term BAME

BAME is often used in the media, by government or corporates to describe anyone who is non-white. This can prove problematic, for example, many news reports suggested that BAME people were worse affected by Covid-19 than white counterparts. However, in reality, it is only Black and South Asian people who appear to have worse health outcomes.

Aside from potential misinformation which can transpire when grouping large swathes of the population together, the term BAME becomes even trickier to unpick when you account for how individuals identify and feel about themselves. For example,

  • BAME confuses nationality, race and ethnicity with no recognition of faith.
  • It can be confusing to be described as BAME for those of mixed race.
  • The ‘A’ for Asian covers many heritages spanning almost a third of the globe.

While the term BAME has become short-hand for those talking about diversity and inclusion, this sense of grouping individuals into one cohort of non-white people no-longer feels relevant to many young Brits who do not wish to be thought of as “other”.

Challenging language

While some argue that semantics are less important and would prefer to address inequality itself, organisations like British Future Trust disagree. Their report from February 2021 states:

 ‘Language matters when we talk about race. Social norms against racism are stronger than they were in the past. A broadly accepted principle is that we should try to talk about ethnic difference in a way that makes sense to those that we are talking about – including trying to use the language that people would use about themselves.’

However, organisations, like Inc. Arts agree that collective terminology is sometimes required but believe acronyms (especially ones which are inaccurate) are reductive.

In the UK government’s recent Race Report, it was recommended that the term BAME was dropped as it is now considered ‘imprecise and often misleading’. You can find out more about the Race Report in our e-book ‘We All Have the Power to Make a Difference’.

Listening to young people

Blueprint for All have embarked on a journey to discover how the term BAME specifically affects young people.

Following several in-depth focus groups with our beneficiaries, schools, and community groups we have now begun a nationwide research programme to recognise how 500 young people from diverse backgrounds feel. We will dive into their understanding of the historical context associated with language used to describe people and aim to gain a better understanding of how they identify in terms of nationality, race, and ethnicity.

We plan to release the findings from our research in Autumn 2021. You can sign-up below to be amongst the first to receive the results:

Research findings mailing list