Why the term BAME doesn’t mean anything & popular terms which are actually problematic

A quick guide on what NOT to call Black and Brown people. 

It’s the last month of the year and we’re just out of our second national Lockdown. Amidst the pandemic, where BAME people are said to be at higher risk of infection and mortality, confusion stirs: who are “BAME people”? Aren’t there several groups within that term? If we’re all lumped together, how accurate are these estimates really? 

COVID talk aside, in the case of brands, many terms like “BAME” are used in campaigns to appear inclusive. So, how can brands be genuine in their efforts to amplify Black voices and talent, post Black History Month and the BLM resurgence?

Well, here are some frequently used terms we choose to avoid.

“BAME”: Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. An official term (along with variations of it e.g. BME), that in reality, is rejected by many. The reason “BAME” is problematic is because you can’t just box a whole population into a singular group. This erases the many cultural identities that exist within the UK. 

Take the A for Asian as an example: This could refer to Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and so many other people from the Asian continent. These countries are all culturally different and some are incredibly far from each other yet, they’re tied together solely because they’re from the same (vast) continent. 

Moreover, “BAME” is often used as a safety net by those too scared to call Black people “Black”- ironic, considering anti-blackness is prominent in many non-black communities. We believe campaigns that target “BAME people” will never succeed because BAME people don’t exist. We’re Caribbean, Middle Eastern, West African, South Asian, Eastern European. And that’s OK.

Try: and be more specific when referring to communities and people

“Diverse influencers”: If you’re scratching your head at this one, let me explain. First, diversity and inclusivity are not interchangeable, so in reality, using “diverse” to describe a group of people who’s only “difference” is their physical appearance (such as skin tone)  has the opposite effect of being inclusive. 

Diversity may be about recognising differences, but that doesn’t mean brands can use it to put people in a box. Intentional or not, this label can make many People of Colour feel othered. 

Try: influencers, influencers of colour 

“Ethnic”: I shuddered typing this one out. Please don’t use “ethnic” to describe people. Don’t even use it to describe food. Lumping us into one blanketed category is harmful, offensive, and a prime example of marginalisation.

Try: learning where the person, food, etc. is from and replacing “ethnic” with their country of origin!

“Exotic”: I should censor this word out, it’s that bad. 

It screams fetish! Yes, it may sound like a compliment, but exotic should really be reserved for fruit, animals or travel destinations- not people. Most commonly heard in the dating scene, many brands have been guilty of using that word in their campaigns.

Try: not to allude to someone’s skin tone, heritage etc. when complimenting them 

“Urban”: Tyler, The Creator’s Grammy interview highlighted the racial overtones of the term “urban”. He called it the PC version of the n-word, and he’s definitely onto something. It’s rooted in racial stereotypes and despite Black artists absolutely dominating the music industry, entering them into “urban” categories during award season only reinforces the concept of a glass ceiling. 

Black art has such a mainstream and global impact, yet remains marginalised when tied to the loaded word that is “urban”. If companies truly value Black talent then many spaces, including the influencer industry, must retire this term.

Try: avoiding labels when it concerns Black people and other marginalised groups 

To conclude, there are so many words used in the UK to reference People of Colour but we feel that they erase culture, identity and sometimes even our existence. Language is so important so let’s ensure we use it to celebrate instead of eliminate communities.

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