by Rakib Ehsan
Friday, 21
August 2020

Why the ‘BAME’ term has outlived its purpose

Some of the sharpest social tensions are between ethnic and religious minorities
by Rakib Ehsan

A new report published by Hope Not Hate, focusing on the socio-political attitudes of British minorities, provides much food for thought over how we should view community relations in modern-day Britain.

The survey found that twice as many ‘BAME’ people agree (40%) than disagree (21%) that there is more tension between Britain’s different minority communities, when compared with tensions between white and non-white groups.

While it may be an uncomfortable truth for those who are intent on framing Britain through a white versus “BAME” prism, the reality is that some of the sharpest social tensions are between ethnic and religious minorities.

Credit: Hope not Hate

These social tensions make a mockery of the term ‘BAME’ — an acronym which is no longer fit-for-purpose when one considers the social, economic, and religio-cultural complexities of modern-day Britain.

In a multi-ethnic, religiously diverse society such as ours, a degree of conflict is inevitable. And encouraging ethnic and religious groups to ‘mind their own’ and hide in their segregated silos would be hugely counterproductive — for a lack of intergroup contact breeds feelings of anxiety and suspicion of ‘outgroupers’. Both the 2001 Cantle and 2016 Casey reports correctly identified segregation as a fundamental problem from a social cohesion perspective.

Social integration holds the key here. This is demonstrated by my PhD research, and also by the findings of my new report for the Henry Jackson Society which found that better-integrated British Muslims not only held more favourable views on non-Muslims, but were also less likely to support antisemitic conspiracy theories, when compared with poorly-integrated co-religionists.

It is therefore time for mainstream politicians and policymakers to stop viewing community tensions in simplistic ‘white v BAME’ terms. Local community cohesion plans need to reflect the reality on the ground. The most problematic social tensions in West London, may be different to those in inner-city Birmingham. And some of these tensions will not involve white British people.

The UK Government does not only need to bring social integration higher up its domestic agenda. It also needs to work closely with local voluntary organisations and interfaith community groups, to help develop enduring bonds of social trust and mutual respect in Britain’s urban diverse communities. And it also has to be aware of the potentially destabilising impact of geopolitical tensions in both the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, on both interethnic and interfaith relations in the British context.

Creating a more socially cohesive Britain in the post-Brexit, post-Covid world, should be a political priority. Whether that is reflected in meaningful policy action, remains to be seen.

Join the discussion

  • Personal experiences.
    In the 1970s I dated a West Indian girl until her brother found out and threatened her with a knife for going out with a white man.
    In the 90s the dislike of West Indians and Africans for each other, came to my attention.
    Now I walk my dog along with an Indian lady, who is the most racist person I have ever met. She tells me that it stems from her father who told her never to marry a “BMW”, Black, Muslim or White. She is mellowing, apparently her daughter could marry a white man.
    How the BAME industry can pretend that all non white people can be lumped together eludes me.

  • BLAME would have been a better term because all these people ever do is blame others for their own failures.

  • It would be really interesting to collect some empirical data about how communities become integrated. Whether it would be possible to do such a thing I don’t know, there might be too many factors, and situations of different communities might be too different. But I often wonder if anyone really knows how to accomplish that kind of integration.
    Part of it I suspect is just time, it takes a certain amount of time for a new population to become integrated into an existing community, even a stable one. If the community is unstable, as many are now, it may be difficult for it to happen at all – people are just thrown back into the networks they already have.
    This is even true of people who simply move from one town where they originate to another where they have no roots, within the same country, with the same language. A healthy connected community will integrate them over a few years, but in a fragmented one there is no integraton. Which makes me think that absorbing new communities from abroad means having stable local communities in place already.

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