I Am Not A ‘BAME’

Words: Danielle Dash

I am Black. I am a woman. I am queer. I am cis-gender and able-bodied. Labels are useful in articulating the intersecting identities that make up who I am, and I am proud—boastful even—of each of my labels. However, one label I roundly reject is ‘BAME’, the ugly acronym used to lump all people who are not white together.

I reject the BAME label because, not only did I not choose it, after years of searching, I cannot find any pride in it. I am many things, but I am not a BAME. I wince when I hear the term meant to encompass all Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic people. BAME was born in Britain in the 1970s during the fight against discrimination and state violence, and while I can respect the idea in wanting to unionise all people subject to oppression by the white majority in Britain, as Gena-mour Barrett points out, 7.6million people on this clapped, little island are not all white. (For clarity’s sake, Gena-mour didn’t call Britain clapped, I did. Because it is, but I digress.) It is impossible for one term to accurately describe us all and its continued use only flattens our experiences in service of making lazy people comfortable.

The lazy people in question are, in part, representative of ministers from the Tory government, whose reign of terror just won’t let up. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who’d be funny if the level of power afforded to this colossal dickhead didn’t scare the shit out of me, recently exemplified why the term BAME fails under the weight of requirement. When challenged by Sophie Ridge about the exclusion of black people from the cabinet during the recent Black Lives Matter protests across Britain, Hancock-By-Name-Cock-By-Nature pointed to the fact that Boris Johnson’s cabinets are the most diverse he’s ever been a part of. This undercooked oven chip went as far as saying “it’s the diversity of thought that’s the really important thing when you’re taking those big decisions around the cabinet table.” Leaning on his proximity to four South Asian politicians to explain away the government’s failure to represent Black people in its ranks is akin to “I’m not racist. I have Black friends.” But worse because the friends in question are not even Black.

Now, while Hancock’s “diversity of thought” line is utter hogwash, he’s not wrong that the current cabinet is diverse. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel, former Home Secretary Sajid Javid and newly appointed head of Boris Johnson’s racial inequality commission (don’t worry, I’m coming back to this) Munira Mizra are all South Asian people. And this is where the ability to hold two thoughts in your mind at the same time is key; it is possible to be both diverse and exclusionary. The idea of “BAME people” means that these politicians’ presence in government should assuage concerns of Black Britons. This is impossible when they, Patel and Mizra in particular, have let it be known that they are wholly uncommitted to the eradication of anti-Blackness, especially when it concerns the actions of the government they serve. The pervasive falsehood of the BAME agenda is that non-Black racialised people are, by nature, anti-racist.

Please don’t mistake me: Asian people are subject to prejudice, racism and discrimination. However, it is unrealistic to expect their understanding of their own oppression to extend to a well-rounded cognisance of the oppression of Black people. The same way it would be ludicrous to expect me, by virtue of being a queer cis-gender woman, to pretend to understand and speak on all the ways trans people experience oppression and violence.

When Labour’s Florence Eshalomi called Priti Patel to task on the floor of Parliament about Black Lives Matter and the structural inequality plaguing Black people in Britain, in an unsurprising move, Patel told parliament that she “would not take lectures” from Labour about racism or sexism because she had been called a p*** when she was a child. Patel used her personal experiences of racism as limp evidence that the government can’t possibly be anti-Black because, despite her Indian heritage, she’s a member of the cabinet. But Priti Patel must have forgotten that despite being a victim of racism herself, she’s the same one who buried the Windrush Lessons Learned Report at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in order to immunise the government against the report’s findings that in their mass deportation of Black people they claimed were illegal immigrants, her Home Office failed “in its duty to counter racial discrimination.” Patel must have forgotten that it was under her government’s watch that Black, Asian and poor white people were killed in the Grenfell Fire and to this day, no one has been held accountable.

The (well-meaning) idea behind the BAME experiment is that we, as racialised people, are together in this struggle against white supremacy, united in its dismantlement and therefore we should be able to speak on behalf of one another. Patel continues to prove how very flawed and dangerous this idea has become. Just because you are not white and have faced hardships yourself does not create in you any instinctive ability to see beyond your own privilege. In Patel’s case, that privilege is her proximity to whiteness, her assimilation into and ascension to the political elite and also her class.

Similarly, Munira Mizra is equally ill-equipped to assist in crucial anti-racism work. She is not woefully unqualified for a leadership role in anti-racism policy because she is of Pakistani descent, but rather because of her fervent belief that because she works for Boris Johnson, he is “not racist and the things he wrote weren’t racist.” This despite his very many racist comments describing people in the Congo as “flag waving picaninnies”, people in Uganda as “Aids-ridden choristers” and this clearly anti-colonial, anti-racist remark: “Africa is a mess, but we can’t blame colonialism... The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.” If you continuously make racist statements, share racist sentiment and refuse to acknowledge anti-racism or participate in the eradication of racism, you are a what? A racist.

Munira Mizra’s appointment as the head of the government’s racial inequality commission is nothing short of a joke. And I can’t even laugh because her ideas will lead many racialised people into danger. Tories get to use her label as a “BAME” person as proof that she is somehow the best person to represent everyone who falls under the BAME banner. The role she plays in constantly excusing and explaining away anti-Black racism is going to cost lives and deny justice to those wronged by racist government policies. Mizra has stated that she believes that institutional racism is a myth, so you tell me which part of Munira Mizra is someone who can thoroughly and without bias investigate the complexities of the structures designed to negatively impact Black people in Britain? Look, the word ‘BAME’ needs to leave our collective lexicon with haste. We need to kill it with fire and put it in the bin where it belongs. There is a shared understanding of the shared disenfranchisement all non-white people share, but beyond that, our experiences are different and should be treated as such.

Nicole Smallman and Bibba Henry were not murdered only to then have Metropolitan Police officers take selfies with their dead bodies and share them on WhatsApp because they were BAME—it was because they were Black. Twelve-year-old Shukri Abdi did not drown and die under suspicious circumstances with no one being held accountable a year later because she was BAME—it was because she was a Muslim refugee from Somalia. The 39 people who died in the back of a lorry in Essex did not lose their lives because they were BAME—it was because they were Vietnamese. Stop with the BAME foolishness! The ease with which the term rolls off the tongue distracts us from focusing on the very real, very hard work of humanising the people it’s supposed to represent.

Posted on July 02, 2020