How do ethnic minority Britons feel about the term ‘BAME’?

Tanya AbrahamResearch Director of Political and Social Research
January 18, 2022, 9:21 AM GMT+0

There is a tendency to see the term as unrepresentative and impractical

UK broadcasters announced recently that they would be committing to avoiding the use of the term BAME wherever possible. The term, which describes individuals who are ‘Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic’, is considered to be a catch-all term for ethnic minority people in Britain as a whole, and its use fails to represent the unique experiences of different ethnic groups.

YouGov research among 1,015 ethnic minority Britons in May of this year found a tendency to agree with this point of view.

What does BAME mean?

The vast majority of ethnic minority Britons (83%) say they understand the term BAME very or fairly well, whilst 13% say they lack understanding. This uncertainty increases with age; 8% of those aged 18 to 24 have this view compared to 19% of those aged 65 and above.

Slightly more people say that they don’t understand what is meant by the ‘Minority Ethnic’ component (17%). For this term, it is the youngest age group who say they don’t understand it (23% of those aged 18 to 24) compared to the older age groups (14% of 50-64 year olds and 15% of those aged 65 and above).

It is clear, however, that when asked specifically about which groups are included in the term ‘Minority Ethnic’, confusion reigns. Around a fifth think this refers to anyone who isn’t White (17%) while another 16% say it describes someone who belongs to a specific ethnic minority or group of ethnic minorities excluding Black or Asian people (note that this category could include White minorities). A further 6% link it to anyone who isn’t White, Black or Asian whilst a fifth (20%) are unsure about its definition.

Those who in the ‘Other ethnicity’ group* are more likely than others to say ‘Minority Ethnic’ means ‘anyone who isn’t White, Black or Asian (16%, vs 3-4% of Indian, Pakistani and Black Britons).

Is it acceptable to use BAME, and is it a representative term?

Attitudes here appear contradictory. While ethnic minority Britons tend to think it is acceptable to use as an umbrella term for the portion of the British population that is non-white (by 49% to 31%), it is not their preferred term, which goes to simply “ethnic minorities” by 58% to 27%.

Nevertheless, deeper examination of attitudes towards the term reveals underlying hostility.

Relatively few ethnic minority Britons believe the term ‘BAME’ represents them well (28%), with half saying it does not represent them well. Similar numbers say the same about how the term represents those of an ethnic minority background in general.

Likewise, few think the term BAME is accurate (30%), helpful (31%), or a practical term to use (35%).

What these seemingly contradictory attitudes could indicate is that, while in the narrowest sense ‘BAME’ is seen as a term that can function to literally describe people as being non-white, should any form of meaningful context be required then it is too crude to be useful.

Black respondents in particular are unlikely to see a positive case for the term BAME in any of the questions we asked. The same is true of Britons of Indian origin, although they are split 40%-44% on whether or not it is a practical term to use.

Mixed race respondents are especially likely to say that the term doesn’t represent themselves (64%) or those of an ethnic minority background (65%) well.

Pakistani respondents, by contrast, tend to be more permissive, particularly on the accuracy or representativeness of the term. Those who come under the ‘Other ethnicity’ category are particularly unlikely to say that the term BAME represents them well, at just 14%.

Overall, approaching half (45%) think ‘BAME’ is used to over-simplify the views and experiences of people from ethnic minorities, almost twice the number who think it helps to improve understanding of ethnic minority groups by looking at things from an overall level (24%). The tendency to see BAME as an oversimplification is present across all ethnic groups, with mixed ethnicity Britons (60%) and Indian Britons (52%) most likely to say so.

Likewise, by two to one ethnic minority Britons think the term BAME a short-term fix which avoids addressing systemic racial issues (44%) rather than being part of a sustained effort to tackle systemic racial problems (21%).

Again, all ethnic groups tend to see the term as a short-term fix, with Black (52%) and Indian Britons (50%) the most likely to say so. Respondents who are of mixed ethnicity, or fall under the ‘Other Asian’ grouping,** are more likely than other groups to see ‘BAME’ as neither a short term fix nor an effort to tackle racial problems, at 35% and 29% respectively.

* Our ethnic groups correspond with the 2011 Census categories, with the ‘Other ethnicity’ group referring to “Arab” or “Any other ethnic group”

** Those with an Asian background that is not Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Chinese

See full results here and here

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