Is BAME an ‘unhelpful’ term?

BBC abandons acronym in newsrooms and corporate communications

Black Lives Matter protesters in London
Black Lives Matter protesters in London
(Image credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images)

Four UK broadcasters will no longer use the acronym “BAME” to describe black, Asian and minority ethnic people after an industry report found there was a “lack of trust” around the term.

The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 will follow the findings from the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, which said that the collective term had been used to “hide failings in the representation of specific ethnic groups”.

The term will be ditched in favour of the use of “more specific terms to describe ethnicity”, as recommended in the industry report, in order to “provide better representation and to boost diversity by acknowledging the unique experiences of people from different ethnic backgrounds”, said the BBC.

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Broadcasters will no longer use the term in newsrooms or in corporate communications although it may still be used in “reported speech and official documents”, but will be “accompanied by an explanation i.e. specific information on a particular ethnic group not being available”.

The term, which has become increasingly popular in recent years, is now often seen to be outdated and offensive.

In March, the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, launched by Boris Johnson after the Black Lives Matter protests last July, recommend scrapping the label as one of its “key proposals”, reported The Telegraph.

The commission found that the term BAME is “unhelpful and redundant” and should no longer be used by public bodies and companies.

It advised the prime minister to drop the “blanket term”, warning that it “masks the much more complicated picture of different lived experiences of individual ethnic groups”.

Rather, the term “ethnic minority” was found to be more popular among people from ethnic minority backgrounds than BAME or “people of colour”.

The report also highlighted concerns that “companies increasing the number of BAME staff they hire then feel there is no need to tackle other systemic racial problems, inadvertently curbing progress”, reported The Telegraph.

One insider told the newspaper: “The commission has taken evidence from across the UK, examined the data to create a rigorous fact-based report on what is often a highly charged debate.

“It was important for commissioners to produce findings based on data and evidence to try and take down the temperature on this issue and have a debate based on the facts, not driven by ideology.”

The Times said critics of the recommendation “might question whether efforts to increase diversity will be complicated by the lack of a single, clear term to track progress”.

At the time, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, told Sky News: “I think there is a call to move away from it [the term BAME]. The question is what do you replace it with?”

Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor, tweeted that, although he “never liked” the term BAME, “simply stopping its use doesn’t deal with specific issues encountered by minorities”. He accused the government of focusing on “symbols and not substance”.

Sajid Javid, however, seemed to welcome the new proposals, telling LBC’s Nick Ferrari that he “never particularly liked using the word” and the report shows the government is “taking these issues very seriously”.

“It’s a catch-all that doesn’t distinguish between some of the differences between different ethnic minority groups,” he said.

Johnson announced the creation of the commission after the death in the US of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in May 2020 when a white police officer used his knee to pin him to the ground by his neck.

Floyd’s death sparked a wave of protests across the US and around the world, prompting fresh debate over how to tackle racial inequalities.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.