I came to the United Kingdom at the age of 7 in 2006, from Ghana. I have been lucky to have come from a family with a strong tradition and heritage in Ghana. But, little did I know, that when I came to the UK, I was no longer a proud son of the Ashanti but now just another person labelled under 'BAME.'
It was not until I realised that the principles of the Conservative Party were the principles that so many in my community identified with that I began to actively identify the stupidity of the label. With the title 'BAME', we were all expected and encouraged to vote for Labour because they were the party for non-whites. I will outline the history of this label and how it has turned into an unpleasant phrase that seeks to put minorities under one umbrella and ignore certain groups’ cultures and their different obstacles.
The term was created in the 70s by the anti-racist movement to unite all minorities in the battle against the rampant racism of the time. It stemmed from that notion of ‘political blackness’, where anyone who faced racism could come together to give support. That idea was right in principle but in practice, I argue that it made way for the unification of wholly different people under an arbitrary, blanket phrase that does not recognise those differences. The term has now developed into a politically correct way of saying ‘others’.
The term is not widely recognised by normal people - by normal I mean non-political people - who, when asked about their ethnicity will respond in the way they respond in the census. For example, when asked about his ethnicity my father responds ‘Black African’.
So the problem is not with the general public but with the policymakers who have used the term to divert from the real problems in ethnic minority groups.
For example, in terms of educational attainment, access to opportunity, and economic outcomes, there are vast differences in the educational attainment between our Asian brothers and sisters, our Black African/Caribbean brothers and sisters, and more crucially, our Irish, Romani, and Gypsy brothers and sisters who rarely get a mention when it comes to helping communities achieve more and achieve better. In the critically acclaimed series, ‘Line of Duty’ Ted Hastings says, in an interview with a black officer, that he is ‘blacker’ than him. That confused a lot of people of colour as they could not understand why this white, blue-eyed man could think that. And herein lies the issue with the conception of the phrase.
The other ethnic communities have been made secondary to the ‘top two’, Black and Asian, therefore not giving them the attention they require from public bodies. People have forgotten that Irishmen were hand in hand with Black, Asian, and Arabic men and women in terms of the amount of racism they faced, so when people talk about the troubles of certain groups they skip over white ethnic minorities. This then highlights how the term BAME is nothing more than a way of saying ‘others’ and ‘non-whites’.
So in that aspect, the phrase is no longer fit for purpose as it ignores the section of those who face hardships.
The term also gives some politicians a bit of a saviour complex. In 2017 when the then Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said that "only Labour could be trusted to unlock the talent of BAME people" the attitude that so many of us knew was rampant in the Labour party, namely the arrogance that they, and only they, are the messiah to everyone who is not white and that the votes of non-whites are theirs by default.
This, of course, disregards the diverse attitudes on how a country ought to be run in those specific communities. By grouping all of these people it takes away identity and traps us all in a collectivised rut.
The phrase is even worse as it acts as a scapegoat for government ministers and civil servants throughout the years. When asked about how diverse the Cabinet is, Matt Hancock - and to be fair to him anyone would have responded the same way - kept on using the term 'BAME' to detract from the lack of black MPs on our front bench. But let’s not mix this up. We do have the most diverse Cabinet in history - fact.
The issue that was highlighted is how Whitehall has used the term to dodge bullets when it comes to tackling the burning injustices within our country.
The alternative to the discarding of the term in public discourse is nothing revolutionary - if it was I would be the first person to fight against it. The answer lies in our census. Let us forgo the use of 'BAME' and be more specific, by using the options we get on the census so that we can tackle what needs to be tackled instead of using that arbitrary phrase to make everything seem better than it is.
It’s time we #AbolishBAME and move on from the use of collectivised groupings to determine political allegiance and to avoid tackling real issues.
Kofi Frimpong, former MYP for Croydon and President of the Royal Holloway Conservative Society