BAME over: The acronym for ‘minority’ audience grouping is useless

Back in March, the UK Government finally said it was ‘BAME over’ for this 'reductionist idea' of an acronym, which is frequently used to group all ethnic minorities together.

It's time to rethink outdated terminology, argues Asad Dhunna
It's time to rethink outdated terminology, argues Asad Dhunna

"The term ‘BAME community’ feels like a group that is held together by no more than what it is not,” Dr Tony Sewell, the chair of Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, wrote in the foreword of the commission’s controversial report.

And what the group is most probably not is White.

So let’s play this out: the agency brief drops and the (probably ‘mainstream’) audience segmentation is exceptionally well-detailed.

It’s clear that a lot of money has been spent on understanding exactly who this organisation wants to reach. But there’s a footnote – the client wants to reach ‘BAME’ people too.

If we remove the acronym, we are simply left knowing they want to reach people. And it goes without saying that non-specific ‘people’ are not a target audience.

This may sound churlish, but we see it all the time. The many communities grouped together within this failed term – one that assumed all ethnic minorities are part of an homogenous group – are simply not afforded the same levels of respect and detail as White people in the briefing process.

And now we’ll see a scramble for a term to replace one that failed, as new research shows that 40 per cent of UK workers are too afraid to break things down and even say the word ‘Black’ in relation to race and ethnicity.

In fact, the scramble has already begun: the same research also reveals that almost one in five (19 per cent) of working professionals are likely to misuse the term ‘diverse’ to avoid saying what they actually mean by stating specific characteristics.

The same proportion of people also misuse the collective term ‘diverse’ to signify an individual of a different social or ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, religion or disability.

The key point here is that an individual cannot be ‘diverse’ – diversity only exists among people – and so we potentially see a misguided and outdated term replaced for one that says absolutely nothing at all.

What we should really be focusing on now is not looking for a simple and tactical answer for what grouping we should be using to replace ‘BAME’, but rather committing to the intentional and strategic work that goes into true audience insight and segmentation.

The starting point for this is to acknowledge the differences in the group. For example, we know from continued dialogue and understanding that the ‘T’ experiences within the LGBT+ community are incredibly different to those of the L, G and B.

The ‘BAME’ community in itself has work to do to level things out – for example, the level of anti-Blackness within the Asian community is unacceptable. If you’re not in that group it’s even more important to bear in mind that everyone in the ‘BAME’ community is trying to work this out.

Most importantly, ‘BAME’ people are waking up to the fact that they have been categorised in a way that is having a negative impact on their work, their opportunities and their livelihoods. ‘BAME’ programmes are now popping up everywhere, but there’s a real worry that they aren’t going to achieve the structural change we need because they don’t factor in any nuance.

Now is the time to stop grouping together people who often have vastly different lives and lived experiences, to learn and understand about nuance, and to afford any community an organisation wishes to target the same respect that we have had for our abundantly detailed pen portraits of ‘mainstream’ audiences for decades.

Asad Dhunna is the founder and chief executive of The Unmistakables

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