William Claude Dukenfield, better known as W. C. Fields, American comedian, actor, juggler, and writer, once said: 'It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.'
Getting someone’s name right is one of the simplest ways to acknowledge and respect them.
With this in mind, the phrase BAME is simply not fitting for purpose in the 21st century. Don’t you think?
The word ‘BAME’ has been used widely in the mainstream media, advertising and diversity and inclusion circles in recent years, specifically after the worldwide protests inspired by the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
It began life as an acronym (grouping together Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), but why do we have to group so many different people, with their own different identity, culture, and personality just for a matter of convenience? BAME is now frequently used as an adjective or assumed to be an identity, while it is not.
Rather than heralding inclusivity, such usage assumes that all BAME experiences are the same – it unites groups by colour but divides them by culture.
Africa is the most diverse continent on Earth, Asia is home to almost half of the world’s population and minority ethnic seems to group everyone else who is supposedly 'different', but what is then considered to be ‘normal’ or ‘in compliance with’ in this world’s society?
We all have our unique viewpoints and ways of doing things to bring to the table – all of which benefit our local communities and wider society. This is the true beauty of being unique and different as human beings, as individuals.
The British population embraces families with different religions, people from different continents, individuals from different backgrounds and generations, but just one nationality. BAME does not even begin to describe any of these characteristics.
So, I am confused as to why this four-letter acronym is considered sufficient to describe the diverse cultures of this vibrant portion of our UK citizenship. No one I know would describe themselves as BAME.
There is not a tick box that begins to embrace what they call ‘BAME’ people. People are way more than just ticking a box that labels them to be ‘BAME’. Everyone is more than an acronym.
This is the crux of all conversations about race and identity in the UK. We shouldn’t have to choose one part of our identity or rely on a convenient label chosen for us. UK citizens aren’t homogenous and come in a range of colours, religions and cultures. This is the very significant power of the British society.
In the legal profession, referring to solicitors as BAME assumes that Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors all face the same challenges in the workplace.
Everyone will face different challenges in the workplace. Conscious and unconscious bias remain to be two of the most prominent barriers faced by ethnic minority solicitors in the workplace, but even they will manifest differently for each individual.
Many lawyers report being passed over for training opportunities, progression or promotions routinely received by their white colleagues – with similar skill and experience levels.
Others report experiencing microaggressions – such as being labelled aggressive when you are assertive or only being encouraged to practice in lower-paid or unpopular areas of law.
Those with non-British names or who speak English as a foreign language may even find they are rejected at the application stage.
Unconscious biases are based on inaccurate perceptions of people’s abilities based solely on our ethnicity.
These biases become even more apparent when they intersect with other protected characteristics. For example, a Black or Asian solicitor who also has another protected characteristic will experience several layers of bias making it more difficult to reach their full potential.
To create a more inclusive profession, we need to understand the different challenges solicitors face in the workplace and find individualised solutions – but this issue is much larger than just the profession.
Currently, there is a positive, informative groundswell of communication and enquiry, encouraging better inclusiveness. Now would be the perfect time to emphasise that those differences enhance our nation’s understanding and personality?
I want to reinforce this: UK citizens come in all shapes and sizes and are too unique to fit into the overgeneralization of the BAME narrative.
Why don’t we start by modernising something as simple as descriptions in newspaper articles, reports, recruitment advertisements, monitoring forms and consultations - to better reflect the actual and sometimes complex identities of our cultural heritage? At least, we can all answer to a name we recognise.