Jonathan Sacerdoti

The trouble with ‘BAME’

(Getty images)

Are Black people and Asians the same? Are they different from other ethnic minorities? What about Jews? And who do we include when we talk about Asians? Korean, Thai and Chinese people, or those from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India? Does ‘Asian’ refer to a set of skin colours or geographical locations? And what exactly is BAME?

One of the hallmarks of a functional democracy is to protect the needs of minority groups. As well as ensuring they are not unfairly discriminated against, we must also make certain adjustments to accommodate their specific needs. But modern sensibilities and sociological fashions risk lumping groups together and simply emphasising differences. The effect of this can be division and confusion rather than fairness and harmony.

The relatively recent transition from using ‘ethnic minorities’ to ‘BME’ (Black and minority ethnic) started a confusing slide into linguistic opacity, which has delivered us the often heard but rarely understood phrase ‘BAME’. Why did ethnic minority become minority ethnic? Why do we need to list some of those minority groups separately and why did we leave out others? Far from helping, BAME has become a political battleground for representation.

Far from helping, BAME has become a political battleground for representation

Are Jews BAME? Jews are recognised by provisions in the Race Relations Act as a distinct racial group. Judaism is an ethno-religious grouping. Within living memory, two thirds of Europe’s Jews were murdered on account of their ethnicity; the Nazis were keen to include in their slaughter even those with no cultural or religious ties to Judaism. Yet in the 21st Century, despite the continued killing in Europe of Jews for being Jewish, some consider Jews to be the beneficiaries of ‘white privilege’. 

Some Jews are indeed white, some are black, but everywhere in the world except for Israel, all Jews are a minority population.

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