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Just when I was getting my head around BAME!

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By Roger Watson

So that’s it then, the term BAME is about to be jettisoned and we don’t yet know what will replace it. The logic, apparently, is that it does not recognise ethnic differences. And here was me thinking we had derived a term which deliberately did not recognise them with the aim of having an all-inclusive term for people of colour from whatever ethnic, cultural or racial group (probably all words I should not be using) so that they could fight racism, oppression and discrimination on a united front. Silly me. I just can’t wait to see what the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities comes up with next. Maybe the acronym CRED would be a good one in honour of a group of people who actually seem to give a fig about all this.

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To be fair to people who, until recently were classified as BAME, there have been serious and long-standing objections from these now ex-BAME people to the use of the term BAME. The basis of the objection is that it is a derived label and one that fails to acknowledge how people would wish to be identified. But the problem this creates is that self-identity—the lodestar of identity of politics—leads to an incomprehensible array of identities and completely undermines the aims of attempting to classify people for social and economic purposes. Naturally, the issue of classification is controversial, it smacks of apartheid. And no system will ever be perfect. But the point, for example, in the recent UK census is to allow for some degree of financial planning by the Treasury. If the range of identities becomes too fine grained, we move away from planning the allocation of resources to trying to please everybody. 

Take sexuality and gender. A quick Google of how many there are and you find there are 46 LBGTQIA (I haven’t a clue what the ‘A’ is for and am amazed I am with it up to the ‘I’)  and there are at least 52 genders. I am perfectly at home with all this, provided that I am not expected to remember them all. But being a sexagenarian (that’s an age group not a sexuality) you can imagine how confusing all this is. When I was a lad, there were only two sexes; no sexualities or genders, the latter only applying to nouns in the Latin, and French I learned. But the real issue here is, what on earth is the point? 

Take ethnicity. The recent UK census already had a bewildering array of choices and none of them described me precisely. I am a dual British-Irish citizen, born in Scotland. I could select something that represented my Irishness or my Scottishness, but not both without including ‘Welsh’ which I am not. I am not an ‘Other’ and indicated that I was White/English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British. When I was a student, I had the privilege of sharing with Malay Malaysian, Chinese Malaysian, and Brunei students. I learned how to cook rice, make curry and wield chopsticks. I also gained a profound respect for their cultures. But I used to be amused by the conversations between these students from South East Asia who seemed obsessed with the precise ethnicity of their friends. I recall, for example, reference to a Filipino Hong Kong China boy and his relationship with a Brunei Singapore China girl. I used to think we would never become like that, but—from a White British Scottish Irish (living in England for longer than anywhere else) guy—it seems we may already be there.

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