Marsha de Cordova has argued that the Labour Party needs to “move away” from using the word BAME and described it as a term she “very much reject[s]”.
The Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary suggested the term BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) does not fully represent the different identities and experiences of ethnic minority people and needs to be replaced.
She also criticised Health Secretary Matt Hancock for using the term BAME in June to obscure the fact that there are no Black people in the current cabinet, before suggesting “diversity of thought” was what truly matters.
De Cordova said: “Whilst I recognise that there are instances where the term is necessary, I’m of the belief in thinking that the use of such a term really does mask our identities and our differences, both racially, culturally, and so on.
“And for me personally, as a Black woman, it is a term that I don’t use – in fact it is a term I very much reject. The frequency and the use of the term also, in my opinion, indicates a level of complacency.
“And you know, you can’t be in a pandemic, for instance, and talk about BAME people as has been done, without understanding and identifying and disaggregating the differences that hit behind that.
“If you are a young Black man versus a young Chinese woman, they’re going to be very different, but yet you want to just label them with the same label, and it’s really important to understand that we’re absolutely more than just labels.”
She added: “I’m very certain that we’re going to pick up on that in this afternoon’s discussion, but if you are going to ask me the question, are we done with the term BAME? I’m going to say – possibly.”
She suggested that she would prefer it if, instead of BAME, people started to use the term Black “in the political context” as a way of describing minority ethnic groups in the United Kingdom.
De Cordova also talked about how using lump terms like BAME can lead to the feeling of a hierarchy of racism, saying that was a reason for which “we do need to really move away from just wanting to use a blob of the term BAME to describe us”.
On Hancock’s comments, she said: “He used the term BAME to describe the cabinet that was in place, that had enough BAME people in it, as opposed to there being no Black people in that cabinet and the ones that he mentioned, they are all Asian. And then he used the term, ‘diversity of thought’, totally missing the point.”
The panel this afternoon featured a variety of minority activists and experts including councillor Patrick Vernon, deputy London mayor Rajesh Agrawal and Labour national executive committee BAME representative Carol Sewell.
Others in the discussion were less critical of the term with Runnymede Trust director Halima Begum suggesting that the term was imperfect but still useful in measuring inequality.
On the use of the term BAME to help statistically track racial inequality in the UK, Begum argued: “I would never advocate for a situation where we have colourblind policies where, in fact, you cannot track inequalities.
“Without some ability to track the differences between our groups we wouldn’t know today that actually Black African and Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi groups were disproportionately hit by Covid and in fact it tells us whether they are living or dying.”
The Shadow Equalities Secretary also criticised government inaction on workplace racism at a TUC Congress fringe event last week, saying that “nothing has been done” on mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting.
Today’s event formed part of Labour’s online conference. The usual conference was cancelled earlier this year due to Covid. The virtual replacement is running events for Labour members over the next few days through to September 22nd.