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Civil Service

Please, don't call me BAME or BME!

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Woman speaking at event
Zamila Bunglawala, Deputy Head of Unit & Deputy Director Policy and Strategy, Race Disparity Unit, Cabinet Office

This blog post reflects user testing by the Race Disparity Audit on the use of terminology regarding ethnicity and does not reflect a specific Civil Service position. To read more about what the Civil Service is doing to drive ethnic diversity, please see the series of blogs from Race Champion Richard Heaton.

One thing I’ve noticed working in the Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit is how many different ways there are to refer to people from ethnic minorities. 

It's true that, in government, we create new acronyms and initialisms on a regular basis, and rightly too – they can be very catchy and convenient! However, it is also true that acronyms and initialisms are not always well thought through. Where we find evidence that they are not widely understood, have negative connotations or are hurtful to people, it is right that we revisit them.  

The problem with using BAME and BME

The acronym BAME and the initialism BME are, I feel, a good case in point. ‘BAME’ stands for ‘Black, Asian and minority ethnic’ and ‘BME’ stands for Black and Minority Ethnic’. The terms are widely used by government departments, public bodies, the media and others when referring to ethnic minority groups. Yet during research we carried out with nearly 300 people across the UK, we found that only a couple recognised the acronyms and only one knew vaguely what they actually stood for!

There is also a problem in that the terms ‘BAME’ and ‘BME’ aren’t always associated with White ethnic minorities such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage groups, which we know are among some of our most marginalised and disadvantaged communities. To leave these communities out of the very language we use is to marginalise them even further.  

Personally, I have never referred to my ethnicity using BAME or BME, and I don’t like it when they are used to describe me. Like many ethnic minorities, I proudly refer to my specific ethnic identity – my background is Indian. That’s obviously my personal preference, but the fact that the acceptability of BAME and BME has been called into question by The BBC, The Times and The Guardian, suggests I am not alone. 

Similarly, the term ‘non-White’ was not well received by ethnic minorities during our research, as it defines ethnic minorities solely by reference to the White majority. We do not use the term ‘non-Black’ when describing the White group, so why should we say ‘non-White’ when describing ethnic minorities?

The language we should all be using

On our Ethnicity facts and figures website, we use the term ‘ethnic minorities’. We also make sure we always use capital letters when writing about individual ethnic groups. Ethnicity is not a colour palette. It is a technical term used in the Census, as well as an important part of an individual’s identity.  Most people rightly recognise that using a lower-case ‘i’ for Indian or ‘b’ for Bangladeshi is wrong, so why wouldn’t we use ‘W’ for White and ‘B’ for Black ethnic groups? For those looking for more information, below is a short list of dos and don’ts. We have also developed a short guide on how we write about ethnicity that details our rationale.

Do Do not
Use the term ‘ethnic minorities’ rather than BAME or BME people Use the terms ‘Non-White’ or ‘Non-Black’ 
Use capital letters when referring to ethnic groups, for example, “In comparison, Black staff felt...” Use ‘race’ instead of ‘ethnicity’ - research by the Office for National Statistics found that race was considered a less acceptable term by respondents
Spell out acronyms if you really need to use them Forget that ethnic minorities include White minorities 

The government recognises that we must ‘shine a light on burning injustices and ethnic disparities’ so that they can be tackled. But if policy makers, programme providers and those tasked with communicating this work use acronyms and terms that people do not understand, their efforts will have a limited impact. Worse still, if we use terms that offend people then we may unintentionally be doing more harm than good. Understanding what is and isn't appropriate language is the first step to helping us have more confident and respectful discussions about these issues.

It’s time to talk (and ditch the acronyms)

I know that some people may feel uncomfortable talking about ethnicity as they do not want to cause offence. That’s why now is the time to have an open conversation about this: to help share our valuable research into how ethnic minorities wish to be identified; to help overcome that fear factor; be inclusive and invite others to share their own findings as well. 

We all have an ethnicity, so it is important that we all discuss ethnicity in a way that is appropriate, inclusive and sensitive to how ethnic groups identify themselves.

We may not be able to change everything overnight, but wouldn’t it be great if we all made a start? So please, let’s be more aware and inclusive. Whether you work in the public or private sector, in policy, communications or HR, or if you promote equality and inclusion  through speeches and press notices, let’s ditch the acronyms and other offensive terms for good. And if you're part of a BAME or BME network, perhaps consider opening up a discussion with members about how they would like to be referred to.

Let us know what your preferred terminology is, or join the discussion in the comments section below. Inclusion starts with us all - please let us all do our part in making a positive difference.

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  1. Comment by Roger Davis posted on

    Our ethnicities are part of who we are, and any emotion regarding this is down to the individual. But when I am at work, I am a driving examiner. The role of examiner does not have ethnicity, and neither does the role of candidate. I fear that the use of collective, broad-ranging acronyms encourages us to identify individuals by their ethnicity rather than their individuality, and encourages, rather than discouraging, unconscious bias.

    • Replies to Roger Davis>

      Comment by Samantha posted on

      Several interesting comments along the same theme but, fundamentally, word classification and data does not create racism in people's characters, intent and actions.

  2. Comment by Biracial Beauty posted on

    Interesting blog and comments. Yes, the human race is the only race and races are a social construct, and it would be great if we were all treated equally, but that is not the reality that we live in. If we want to work towards a future where it is the reality, we need acknowledge the disadvantages that those outside the majority white group experience and work to eliminate them. To do this we need a means of identifying those being disadvantaged.
    I don't personally have an issue with BAME or BME being used to identify me, there have been much worse terms used. However, I think that they are too broad. The experiences of those in the different groups encompassed by these terms are not all the same. There is no one size to fit all, either in the means of identifying/labelling or in experience or in the means of addressing disadvantages.
    A few commenters have said that they prefer to be called black and that's great if it works for them, but it wouldn't work for me. I'm biracial (white English and black Caribbean) but very light skinned and my facial features are a perfect mix of my parents making it difficult for some people to identify my ethnicity. This has caused problems in the past where people have assumed I'm white and their behaviour towards me has changed when they've discovered otherwise.

  3. Comment by Nick posted on

    Good article - well stated.
    I am 100% with you on the general need to drastically reduce the use of acronyms for anything - along with the pointless use of alternative names/descriptions where a perfectly acceptable word already exists and is widely understood in general - for example google 'telekit' and then ask yourself why not simply use 'teleconference' like just about every other organisation would recognise...?

  4. Comment by Amjad posted on

    Very interesting read- thanks. Different words will have different meanings/connotations to different people. I would prefer the use 'ethnic background' instead of 'ethnic minority' as to me the use of the word minority has negative connotations.
    You know the old addage - you can't please all of the people all of the time.

  5. Comment by Dave Joseph posted on

    This is a really good blog post with an attention-grabbing headline - one topic, one story, one idea.

    Notwithstanding, it is the inalienable right of an individual to define his/her own racial characteristics and not that of another. Therefore, why is it that non-BAME / BME people inherently do so?

    My take on this is easy, so long as one follow the golden rule - that's a given: "when using an acronym for the first time, it must be spelled out." Hopefully, this will help quell the virtues of ignorance. If there is a "Definition" section where ALL acronyms that are going to be used in the document are defined and spelled out and this section precedes the rest of the document, then no need to use the full name and its associated acronym later in the document.

  6. Comment by Ben H posted on

    This is a fascinating area of theory on how to best achieve egalitarian goals with regards to ethnicity/race. I think ethnic minorities rather than BME is likely good practice going forward, slightly longer but clearer to the general reader.

    However, I think ethnicity rather than race ends up sidestepping the issue somewhat. Racial/ethnic groups are created based on holistic combinations of identifiable attributes, including, but not limited to national origin and skin colour.

    These groupings are arbitrary and have existed fundamentally to marginalise minorities within society (see how Italians/Irish were treated in the US before being accepted 'inside the tent' as non-white immigration rose). Race is a loaded word for a reason and I feel it does a reasonable job of reminding people these classifications are being used to help us fight systematic barriers established over time by a historically racist society.

  7. Comment by Keith Priestley posted on

    Excellent article. As we all come from one race - the human race - I am glad that advice is finally steering towards ethnic heritage instead.

    As I come from a different heritage to my wife, with different skin colours, this is a discussion that frequently occurs.

    I long for a day when society has moved on from even noticing a persons skin tone/ethnic origin/nationality/age/disability status etc. and treats everyone with equal respect.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with not labelling people with acronyms. Yet another way to de-humanise a person.

  8. Comment by Aeltaf Kahn posted on

    Quite agree. BAME/BME, have always been dubious at best. Why this need to create additional, and often loaded terminology. In whose interest, and has it helped or hindered. I think hindered, as it does nothing to add value, but a lot to distract and confuse.

    Similarly, with inclusion, it should focus on integration. Integration is the real aim.Reductionist approaches, be that Govt lead or Think Tanks advising Govts, seldom achieve long-term goals.

  9. Comment by Ian Hopping posted on

    On "Quora", a website for people to ask questions, one recurring question from Americans is 'What do British people call People of Color [sic]?' or similar.

    The normal answer from Brits is 'Dave','Liz', 'Curtis' etc.

  10. Comment by Roger Aitken posted on

    The issue is that there are so many different enthicities no one word or phrase fits - to look at me you see a white man - I am also part Maltese! I identify as English because I was born and raised in England and not a huge emphasis was put on the Maltese part growing up. I have a colleague who is very definite that he is Scottish. One of the commentators (Dawn 9/7/19) made the comment that she is Black, if that is what she wants I have no issue with that except that I hear commentators on TV etc saying that Black is an offensive term! So how do we (all of us from all backgrounds) get it right when individuals of all backgrounds have different preferences about how we want to be described?

  11. Comment by Joe posted on

    In future survey there should only be two boxes to tick:
    Are you human?
    Are you A I ( Artificial Intelligence)?
    Think before you answer.

  12. Comment by Yvonne G. posted on

    Call me by my name......that's the message I give when colleagues ask how I wish to be described. As a British born black woman of Jamaican parents, I've been called coloured and brown by my colleagues. Not to my face I might add, but when overheard describing me to other colleagues. Unsure if they felt other adjectives were not fitting i.e . the tall, dark haired lady who sits next to the window.

  13. Comment by Everlette Heirs posted on

    I wasn't in the room that decided we would all be lumped together into a couple of unsatisfactory acronyms so I don't prescribe to them. I am Black and proud to be so just like my colleagues have previously stated. I know who I am, Caribbean of African decent. I object also to being told I'm in a 'minority' as I am not. The word minority has its own connotations and aims, whether on purpose or accidentally, to further diminish those with an ethnic heritage. My argument has always been that if my skin is white - I can pass as anything I like. I can hide being a gypsy, religion, or even that I am from a lower socio-economic group etc. when speaking to an interviewer or anyone making a decision about my life but the colour of my skin immediately gives both positive but more often negative as well as conscious and unconscious bias in any given situation.

  14. Comment by Abdool Kara posted on

    The problem with the acronym BAME, is that it mixes up colour (black), continental origin (Asia), and all other groups who are in a minority, including some who are white. So, whilst I don't find it offensive, it is clearly somewhat 'portmanteau'. It also started out as Black and Minority Ethnic, with the word 'Asian' added more recently given the convenient 'A' to substitute.

    Whilst I agree with the premise of the piece, there are some fundamental confusions of terminology. Firstly, let us be clear that there is no biological or ethnographic basis for the term 'race' - the fact that there was a Race Relations Act, whilst welcomed, was a reflection of the terminology of the day - eg conflict between the races. Race is essentially a social construct, as such we need to avoid using the term.

    Secondly, I don't agree that 'black' and 'white' should be capitalised - as one correspondent has stated, they are descriptive nouns. They may be useful in some circumstances, but they are most certainly not ethnic groups, which should be capitalised, and of which there are hundreds (look them up on Wikipedia).

    And in any case, the descriptions are false: as the South African black activist Steve Biko said to a judge in court who asked him why his "...people called themselves black, you look more brown than black?", Steve B replied, "Why do you call yourselves white - you look more pink than white?".

    Thirdly, nationalities are not ethnicities and many people in this thread are confusing the two.

    And fourthly, few people are any single ethnicity these days - people can be multiple ethnicities, and even these days multiple nationalities if you hold more than one passport (as many more do now following the Brexit vote). Those of us in this position find it hard to complete the usual personal characteristics forms (which box am I - I am lots of them!) and we await the Census with interest!

    And lastly, if we believe as I do that it is useful to collect data on how different groups of people are faring in society, in particular to see whether power is being shared proportionately (whether in govt, in education, in the workplace, in sport and so forth), then it is a useful debate to discuss the best terminology to do so. This needs to balance the ability to reflect all the nuances that the 50 or so preceding comments have raised, but also the simplicity to allow bureaucracies to collect and collate the data, and most importantly, act upon it. This will inevitably require some sort of shorthand. I am happy to contribute to and continue the debate.

    • Replies to Abdool Kara>

      Comment by Jonathan Davies posted on

      I'm glad you pointed out the issue with capitalisation of black and white - I am much of the same mind.
      I dislike identifying people by skin colour as to me, from when I grew up, that was a factor that led to discrimination. But if I have to identify a person in an office where they are perhaps the only person with markedly different physical characteristics e.g. perhaps they are black, how do I do it otherwise? I have to remind myself that it is simply a physical descriptor rather than a classification. Personally I find it quite confusing at times as I have no intent of being unfair to anyone. As someone else has said, we are all human. I will continue to treat everyone as human.

  15. Comment by DJR posted on

    Really interesting article. As some other comments have hinted at, I feel that there is a broader issue that goes beyond ethnicity and race, to other protected characteristics. I wonder if we now need to move beyond groups and labels in the debate and actions on equality, diversity and inclusion?

    I feel concerned about the very different profiles that the different identified characteristics have - e.g. sexuality is everywhere, race/ethnicity also has a pretty high profile - age or disability are virtually nowhere to be seen. That leaves me uncomfortable - no-one is more equal than others - everyone is as equal as each other. Whilst there are some groups (i.e. those identified as protected characteristics) who perhaps need some action to ensure they are, for example, better represented at senior levels, or whatever, discrimination is discrimination is discrimination. I'd prefer to see a debate and culture where all protected groups are treated equally and given the same voice. This goes beyond government of course - the media have a role to play for example - but it would take us beyond the sometimes polarising identity politics that we see which is not (in my view) a beneficial or constructive place for society to be in (and that of course goes far wider than just diversity!)

  16. Comment by Gary Roberts posted on

    Sadly, we are living in a more divided, polarized world, rather than a more united one, and this despite such efforts towards tolerance, inclusion and diversity. I cannot help feeling that some of this is due to the need ones feel to put any kind of label on a person.
    Why should we even be using terms like White, Black, Asian, Indian, Disabled, etc? We are all human; all part of the same global family. To categorize us to any extent is to cause division. Why can't we just accept each person for what and who they are?

  17. Comment by SCS = 7.8% : UK = 14% posted on

    The Minority Ethnic Talent Association's (META) Growing Talent programme used to provide a cross-Whitehall positive action opportunity for Minority Ethnic staff at Grade 6/7, who had demonstrated the ambition and potential to become future leaders in the Civil Service. This was to address the lack of Minority Ethnic staff within the Senior Civil Service, now 7.8% compared to 14% within the UK population. (Institute for Government). This programme has now been subsumed into the Future Leaders Scheme, so there is now no stand-alone scheme to help redress this balance. Why?

  18. Comment by Matt posted on

    Autochthonous and Allochthonous are used in NL; Avoids the negativity of "non", the tautology of "B(A)ME, ever-increasing tick box options to satisfactorily capture finer and finer ethnic gradations and combinations, and the objectionable import "POC" which implies White peolple are, what? Colourless? People of Less Colour? Chopped liver?

  19. Comment by Maureen posted on

    I enjoyed reading all the comments and agree on the label that is used to describe skin colour and to single out a group of people as BAME. I am a black woman from Jamaican heritage, but such ignorance still prevails as many of my ancestors were white. Please remove this unpleasant label BAME. Please call me a black woman as long as no one is offended to be called a white woman, Turkish woman, Irish, Scottish etc. Thanks Zamilla.

  20. Comment by Richy Pea posted on

    Really interesting piece, thanks.

    Language is full of many minefields and it does matter - our words can quite often influence our views as well as the other way round. It's interesting, because I used the term "from an ethnic minority background", then it was "minority ethnic" and more recently we seem to be using BAME. No surprise people get confused! But, it is really important that we talk about these things and we don't just consider such terms as merely "labels" and that we are describing real people in these terms.

  21. Comment by Olga L posted on

    in a world of increasing mixed race people, of which I am a third generation mixed race, I often feel hard put to describe my ethnicity. Personally I feel White British but my father & his side of the family are Chinese, my mother was part English ,part Spanish Philipino, her father part Philipino , part Scots. I often don't feel that ethnicity surveys fail to allow a description of what I feel is my ethnic group. I know that other members of my family & friends in the same position as myself often go eeny miney mo, with ethnic surveys. I long for the days when we are just people regardless of ethnicity, gender, health or whatever make us different.

  22. Comment by Mike posted on

    Can I ask just one thing - treat everyone the same - base that treatment on the fact we work for one company (Civil Service) we all have our prides strenghts (and weaknessess) I see a hard working person (or not) not a colour / religion / country / sexual orientation I don't care. I get angry when groups are targeted for preferental treatment over others - if you're going to set up a group for advancement, do so and include everyone. I work in a sector of the CS where I see young men, of all colours, all from the same housing estate, who have been friends since nursery are now in jail, only for the White men excluded from activities because the activities have been aimed at others. I have seen this bred a them and us culture (something the CS state we should avoid), divide one time friends into seperate gangs and then spill outside on to the street upon release. So my plea is we are all the same can we lose all the letters / acronyms / lables and just be one company treating both ourselves and those we serve equally.

    • Replies to Mike>

      Comment by SCS = 7.8% : UK = 14% posted on

      Individuals from Ethnic Minority / Minority Ethnic / BAME / Non-white backgrounds make up only 7.8% of the Senior Civil Service, while being 14% of the UK population. Do you see that there is no "preferential treatment" here?

  23. Comment by Kirsti Copland posted on

    My Dad made me think a few years ago when he tried out an experiment from one of his OU courses on me.
    Which was to ask how I would describe myself in 3 words if someone asked what I was.
    My immediate answer was Scottish then the fact that I'm female then the fact that I'm white.
    He explained that what He had learnt was that most people would "normally" answer their gender then what ethnic origin they were then what part of the world they came from eg UK.

    But I have been lucky in having parents who brought me up to believe that it doesn't matter what Skin Colour,Race,Religion, Gender, Creed or and I'm quoting now " an Alien from Outer Space with pink and purple spots" the person is it is WHO that person is underneath that matters!

  24. Comment by Ben posted on

    How would people feel if we referred to them as the ethnic majority?

    I abhor the term ethnic minority!

    • Replies to Ben>

      Comment by Cherelle posted on

      I absolutely agree. The very use of the word 'minority' is what offends me. I am not a minority and nobody should not be labelled as such. I am a human, just like everyone else.

  25. Comment by Carl posted on

    Thank you for writing this. I first came across this acronym in a derogatory article produced by a newspaper that I would rather not associate my self with. In it they outlined the ridiculous notion that "to get a job in this country you now have to be B.A.M.E." I took an instant dislike to the label (not the people it refers to) it feels less like an identity and more like a box to put people in.

  26. Comment by Mark posted on

    Chiara is absolutely right - there is only one race of people: the human race. The idea of there being different races of people is an essential concept in racist ideologies, dividing and subjugating on a false premise. By continuing to use the term (particularly in the naming of Civil Service units and public awards, despite acknowledging it is an inappropriate term, as Samantha highlights) it lends credibility to the concept.
    It's not to make 'racism' or 'racist' dirty words, or to deny the experience of people who have been victim of racism, but we should be more savvy about use of the term race.

  27. Comment by Julia Buckley posted on

    I just like to refer to people by their names.

  28. Comment by Ann posted on

    This article is so timely and appropriate. This is something I often talk about with family and friends/colleagues. I'm very pleased to see such an article written. Thank you Zamilla

  29. Comment by Minion posted on

    While capitals should always be used for nationalities because they are proper nouns I don't see why you would do it for simple adjectives such as white and black. They are discriptions in the same manner as tall, short, brunette, blond and are generic terms. If someone wants to use their nationality as their identifier all well and good (I always identify as English - I'm as entitled to my identity as anyone else) but while I appear white, my colour does not define me or identify me as a person. Cuilture is a far more defining thing than colour anyway. Personally though, I think it's about time we joined the discussion going on in the 'outside' world on what we all have in common rather than what drives us apart.

    • Replies to Minion>

      Comment by David posted on

      I was going to say this too. Nationalities are capitalised because they're proper nouns, whereas black and white are common nouns. By capitalising them in this context, you could be said to be giving prominence to differences in skin colour which you don't give to other physical characteristics. Also, what about other skin colours?

  30. Comment by Mark J posted on

    Identity politics is by its nature divisive and the only things you should personally be proud of are you own positive contributions, such as hard work, real achievements, wise and intelligent decisions, kindness and the decency of your character.

  31. Comment by Sara posted on

    Thanks - a really helpful article and I'll use it as a prompt to talk to my staff about how they feel about this, and to build our collective confidence in talking about ethnicity.

  32. Comment by Emma posted on

    Thank you for this article Zamila, it is very insightful and conversations on race are vital if we are to have any chance of making progress on racial disparities. I always found the term "BAME" a slightly alienating way to describe a person. The term ethnic minority makes much more sense as it is materially accurate; even better is to reference the actual ethnicity. Unlike the White commenter above I'm not at all offended by the term "people / person of colour" - White people such as myself are pallid in comparison, lets face it. We are all descended from Africa (shout out to Mitochondrial Eve!), many of us have unfortunately lost our colouring along the way and black is indeed beautiful 🙂

  33. Comment by Ferzana Shan posted on

    I am so glad this is being discussed. I also don't like the term 'ethnic minorities.' I have stopped completing ethnicity surveys etc as i find they are more divisive and unhelpful as they focus on differentiation rather than similarities. I prefere how they operate in Pakistan. Either you are Pakistani or Not. This way everyone is included. You can visibly see Chinese Pakistanis, Chechyan Pakistanis, Afghan Pakistanis; yet they are only referrred to as Pakistani. This is far more inclusive and it works. From the time of the Indian Raj, my great great granddad worked and settled in the UK so pre-partition, yet I am still labelled British Pakistani and get taunted with the 'go back home.'

  34. Comment by Clare posted on

    It's only on reading this blog that I've made the connection that just as I don't want to be referred to as "an LGBT person" (I'm only one of those!), BAME/BME is similarly overgeneralising and exclusionary.

    Great blog, it's certainly got me thinking!

  35. Comment by Cee posted on

    Like Samantha, I agree with Dawn and Marva that by focusing on terminology, we risk being distracted from the task in hand - taking effective and sustained action to foster equity and fairness.

  36. Comment by Camilla posted on

    Thank you for writing this!

  37. Comment by Chiara posted on

    Its great to keep this ever evolving discussion open. I don’t understand the use and term of race as there is only one race.
    I also question the boxes as they are based on countries and not ethnicity. For example Bangladeshi is a nationality. Bengali is the ethnicity.
    The term I use and found inclusive is ethnic heritage.

    • Replies to Chiara>

      Comment by samantha posted on

      Glad to see that we are almost universally more concerned about the language than the racial discrimination.

      Deeds not words

  38. Comment by Sophie posted on

    Completely agree with this. Organisations keep using these terms when trying to build an inclusive workforce. All you’re doing however is widening the gap and reminding those of ethnic minority (such as myself as a British Pakistani) that you’re the ‘other’. I also think inclusive means just that. You can’t favour those of ethnic minority just on their colour /race because it means the rest of the working population end up resenting you even more for getting special treatment.

    Inclusivity has got to mean equality and treating everyone the same on the merits of skills and experience. I certainly do not want to be singled out as a ‘BAME’ person. I have a name!

    • Replies to Sophie>

      Comment by Samantha posted on

      STATEMENT - "You can’t favour those of ethnic minority just on their colour /race because it means the rest of the working population end up resenting you even more for getting special treatment".

      FACT - there is and always has been universal special treatment and favour (based on all statistics - Civil Service; UK wide and International) of white people based on colour and priviledge.

      CONCLUSION - Should we assume that the status quo is acceptable, should be left as is and shouldn't result (1) in ethnic minorities ever having issue with white people for getting special treatment or (2) a concerted effort to have greater equality for ethnic minorities.

      Should we also assume it only becomes an unacceptable argument when we talk of favour being given to those of ethnic minority which is, in fact, only about a levelling of the playing field to counter those issues where discrimination is still rife.

      • Replies to Samantha>

        Comment by Sophie posted on

        I guess facts and perspectives come down to how individuals have been treated and the experience they’ve had. I suppose one size doesn’t fit all.

        Good to have this open dialogue with differing opinions.

  39. Comment by From Canada posted on

    Interesting article. While in Canada, we use the term ‘visible minority’, I think I would much prefer ‘ethnic minority’. Being a person of Turkish origin, I am often told I am not a visible minority which I find quite ignorant.

  40. Comment by White person posted on

    Personally I dislike the term 'People of colour', as it implies that as a 'white' person I am lacking in colour (which in skin colour terms is not even true as I am not white like a sheet of paper), but also implies my personality is somehow bland and colourless. However, I don't expect my view will change the debate, so I don't want to get too upset with the label attached to me.

    • Replies to White person>

      Comment by Ray posted on

      I also have to tick the white box, but it doesn't say anything about me so in that sense I am not bothered.But it annoys me that because of prejudice we have to have these boxes. There are no white or black people only different shades of flesh colour and everyone has a unique colour so it makes no sense to group people by colour. Everyone is unique so it makes little sense to group by ethnicity.
      But we still have prejudice so we have to try and tackle it and grouping people by 'colour' may or may not help in reducing prejudice.
      It may be better to help people to be resilient to prejudice though education. And of course use education to reduce prejudice.

      • Replies to Ray>

        Comment by Samantha posted on

        "It may be better to help people to be resilient to prejudice though education".

        Whilst I am keen that we have open debates about race, I do not really understand the notion behind statements like this. I am unsure why anyone should be expected to be resilient to something that is illegal - racism - and we are speaking here of incidents where it also exists within Civil Service walls which is even more unacceptable given what we all do in our sector.

        In terms of semantics, it is called racism and not prejudice and there is no education that exists that many, including myself, would want to be a part of that aims to teach me to tolerate what is unacceptable and illegal. As is often said and never implemented "Fix the problems not those affected by them".

        • Replies to Samantha>

          Comment by Paula posted on

          I agree with the points you make. However, I wonder if what was meant by becoming 'resilient' to prejudice was that, through education, one would recognise prejudice and be less likely to be prejudiced or be accepting of prejudice in others. Becoming resilient to our own internal prejudices and instead thinking inclusively.

  41. Comment by Mark Moore posted on

    Zamilla... thank you ... powerful writing and compelling !

  42. Comment by Samantha posted on

    I agree with both Dawn and Marva - "The obvious nature of my difference that is used to discriminate against me is being Black". So please - can we have more focus on 'deeds not words'

    When we are prevented from using the terminology of 'Black, BAME or Race' especially in the naming of departmental race networks, then we have got very caught up in the semantics and should remind ourselves to instead stay focussed on finding solutions to the issues and real barriers of what amounts to racism that are still facing many ethnic minorities in the Civil Service.

    We focus on words and instead forget to follow and act on what the data is telling us and the redress that is required as a result. We are also very good at marking our own homework and putting 'race efforts' up for awards therefore, arguably, self seeking for some and progress lacks broad 'customer insight', innovation and is very slow.

    Decades of Civil Service data around performance management, bullying, grievance, TDA, promotion, in year awards and SCS recruitment has been telling us loudly where we need to act in terms of 'BAME' disparities at all grades (and particularly in relation to accessing TDA opportunities to step up into the SCS and succeed in SCS recruitments - all of our grade recruitment is never blind) - so please can we focus more on points like those above as they are all within the gift of Civil Service policy and process to change things for the better if there is a will to.

    Zamilla, you were brilliant at the recent Race Conference in London and Richard Heaton punctuated the reality that, for the first time in a long time, we now have a Permanent Secretary cadre that has not a stitch of BAME representation amongst it. So it would be appreciated if, given your significant role, you can influence your Race Disparity unit now applying its robust analytical approach substantively to an audit of the race disparities across the entire Civil Service sector particularly as this is where significant public policy is made/influenced relating to all of the other sectors where your audit has shown that ethnicity disparities are rife - in justice, policing, housing, health, employment, pay etc...

    Many of us always wondered why the Race Disparity Audit did not audit the Civil Service and related Government structures first (the makeup of our elected officials. Ministers and the culture in which they operate and recruit) before then looking at other sectors and how public services are delivered and received. There must be actual and potential causal links between Civil Service 'culture and attitude' and how policy is designed, delivered and policed which, if surfaced through evidence, could ideally lead to many new practical policy solutions that could then be implemented.

    The pace of change makes it feel that addressing inequalities in some areas such as race is 'a nice thing to have but okay if we never get there' - the CS race agenda needs to be much better thought through, have more diversity of thought leading it, be faster in execution and, arguably, driven and overseen by a new organisation from outside of the Civil Service .

    As a Black British person of Jamaican heritage I still feel deeply embarrassed to be part of a sector where almost every race champion is White, may empathise but is hardly likely to have personally shared the black experience of racism or race related disadvantage and will never be affected by it; where we purport to "talk about race" but says nothing of much note; where we 'celebrate' every October as Black History Month but speaks little to real Black History and exclude it from the national curriculum; where the Windrush scandal happened and where there is always a perennial glut of possibly its greatest ethnic diversity amongst its ancillary staff who secure and clean its buildings.

    • Replies to Samantha>

      Comment by Estelle Neuman posted on

      Firstly I would like to thank Samantha for her contribution which I whole heartedly endorse. I am very new to the Civil Service having joined in October 2018. I am however not new to the on-going debate regarding race, ethnicity, identity etc. I speak from a point of knowledge as my father was Nigerian and my mother English. I identify as black as is my choice and it is a political one. I only have one further point to add to Samantha's excellent dissection of Zamila Bunglawala's piece and that is the extremely small number used in the research which was carried out. Which immediately raises the question of who where the 300? Were they a self nominating group? Were they representative of the Civil Service or the general population? And so on to have only 3 out of 300 only vaguely aware of the terms BAME and BME is shocking. If this is representative of colleagues within the Civil Service I am appalled. Irrespective of Zamila Bunglawala's comments I will continue to claim MY black identity as this is my heritage and I would urge others to claim theirs.

  43. Comment by Rachel Silveira posted on

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts, it's all really helpful and insightful.
    I am looking at ways organisations who run large events can assess the diversity of audiences when it's not possible to ask individuals to self identify. Are there people who have done this in an authentic way whose methods we can learn from? Thank you.

  44. Comment by Naureen Khalid posted on

    Good discussion and thank you for starting it. Personally, I don’t want to be referred to as BAME, BME, person/woman of colour or the newest one, global majority. I’m a Muslim, British woman of Pakistani and Punjabi roots. All of these are important to me and aren’t all captured by any of the above terms.

  45. Comment by Marva Rollins posted on

    In our drive to define differences, there is a regular shift in terminology used by both Black and White people. I have lived through the 'coloured' to the current BME/BAME. If we are to collect data highlighting disparity then clearly terms are needed. I am Black (with a capital B) and very confident in my skin colour. However, I am not sure how using this term would enable detailed analysis and inform subsequent actions.
    I find the many titles for roles with a Equality/Disparity brief, in both the public and corporate world, extremely complex. I sometimes wonder who creates these titles, and what the day to day work of such personnel involves that impacts on the peope the roles serve. Back to the 'Ethnic minority' debate. The important factor is not to be distracted from the task in hand - equity and fairness!

  46. Comment by Hash posted on

    Interesting article and insightful comments. To help bring about change I assume there are updates planned to the related mandatory learning products for the subject matter within Civil Service Learning (note how I haven't used an acronym).

    Or is this not policy (intent) yet and about raising awareness

  47. Comment by Terry posted on

    My father was born in the UK and my Mother is from Burundi I am fairly dark skinned so how should I be referred to? African? Afro English? Black or White? Who knows? Why should I have to be labelled? I prefer to use a label that is appropriate at the time for example if I am driving a taxi I don't mind being called a taxi driver. When I was in the RAF, every month I was sent a reminder that I had not completed a diversity form, apparently it was an important document because it gave them information about me to ensure I was not being discriminated against. Without fail I would send it back with NA written in every box; Gender Sexuality Ethnicity etc. If no one knows who or what I am how can they discriminate?

    • Replies to Terry>

      Comment by Samantha posted on

      An interesting comment to think that anyone needs to know who or what you are in order to discriminate. If you are 'dark skinned' and feel that can't happen then I am glad if that may have been your experience but inclusion is about more than just ourselves and others clearly have not all enjoyed that same experience.

      Also, labels, acronyms and requests for data collation don't cause racism.

  48. Comment by Lenna posted on

    Such an interesting piece. As someone has worked in an organisation for mixed parentage families, and as the parent of two children of multiple ethnic origins I found this really useful. I would add that the 'mixed' have a very hard time labelling themselves (my daughter has at least 4 different 'origins'), and more trouble dealing with the labels of others.
    Could you please talk to the ONS? The data on ethnic group that comes out of the Annual Population Survey for example is still split into 'White' and 'Ethnic minority' - including Mixed, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Black African/Caribbean, Other - but excluding all ethnic minorities who do not have specifically different colour skin. Information about the labour market including people in 'Other White' groups (eg Roma/Traveller, White European) is not possible to come by.

    • Replies to Lenna>

      Comment by Anthony posted on

      The Labour Force Survey (which feeds into the APS) has different ethnicity questions in the four UK countries, reflecting the different makeup of their respective populations. So some categories have to be merged to produce consistent UK-level figures.
      From User Guide vol 3: 'White' includes respondents in England, Wales and Scotland identifying themselves as 'White -Gypsy or Irish Traveller' and respondents in Scotland identifying themselves as 'White -Polish'.
      'Other' includes respondents in Northern Ireland identifying themselves as 'Irish Traveller' and respondents in all UK countries identifying themselves as 'Arab'.

  49. Comment by Sarah posted on

    An interesting blog. It would be helpful if you expanded more on your research. You mention you surveyed "nearly 300 people" across the UK. How did you decide who to survey? What was your methodology? I have to say "nearly 300 people" seems to be a very small sample size to be looking at when you are talking about changing policy.

    Maybe I've missed it but where is the evidence that the term "ethnic minorities" is any more welcome than BAME or BME? As a catchall phrase I think we are coming to the ends of the usefulness of BAME, BME, ethnic minorities. I think we need to focus more on specific underrepresented ethnic groups.

    Currently my department loudly trumpets that they have recruited more BAME than ever before. When we drill down to the figures (they are very cagey about releasing them) You find that the BAME is actually A - they seem to mostly be recruiting South Asians, followed a long way behind by Black Africans. Black Caribbeans and East Asians are underrepresented. I don't think they even think about other Ethnic Minorities.

  50. Comment by Dawn posted on

    The obvious nature of my difference that is used to discriminate against me is being Black. No one can mistake that I am Black even from a distance. So for me it is important to identify my ethnicity as Black. Like Taiye I am very proud of my ethnicity. 'Shout out loud, I'm Black and I'm proud'. As a black person born in Britain the connection to my Jamaican roots is not as visible as is my black skin. I think we should have the words and not the acronyms. We should ensure that people are encouraged to self -identify so that people can choose from an inclusive list or be provided with the space to add their own preferred alternative.

  51. Comment by Taiye Amuda posted on

    Very insightful! I am African and I am proud of it. I like to be referred to as African and more specifically Nigerian! My Nigerian roots have a major input in my upbringing and resilience in life whether at work or home so I don't want to be hidden behind an acronym.

  52. Comment by Shahid Khan posted on

    Thank you for writing this Zamila - this is a very intersting article about something which is very important in the equality sector. I work in the Scottish Government and we tend to use the term 'ethnic minorities' to include everyone (visible or invisible) minorities since the terms BAME, BME as you rightly pointed out in this article are very 'exclusionary' to some ethnic groups such as Roma and Gypsy among others. I think we need to have open and honest discussion to raise awareness about this important issue to move away from acronyms and initialisms. Thanks

  53. Comment by Cara Oladeji posted on

    Zamila, this is really interesting, you're right, you should be proud of your ethnicity. My husband struggles with the ticking of boxes, he's Black British but his parents origins are both African and Caribbean so our kids struggle too and end up ticking mixed other which isn't very descriptive. I guess there's no one answer to make everyone happy? I'm organising an event with my former colleague from HMRC, entitled 'Driving Inclusion within the Civil Service - BAME and disability' in Manchester and you're welcome to attend/speak. I know, it has BAME in the title but more than happy to now discuss this at the event, should be interesting!

    • Replies to Cara Oladeji>

      Comment by Kelly Tyrrell posted on

      Hi Carla would you be able to please forward the details to me for the event you are organising, 'Driving Inclusion within the Civil Service' Kind Regards Kelly

    • Replies to Cara Oladeji>

      Comment by Thereza Phillips posted on

      Hi Cara
      just read your comments and I am very interested in your event that you are planning in Manchester and would love to attend if possible. I am the Diversity & Inclusion rep at my Jobcentre and I am looking for ways to engage the staff around this topic.

    • Replies to Cara Oladeji>

      Comment by Karl Jagdis posted on


      I sympathise with your husband. I'm part White British, part Trinidadian of Indian descent. I resent being reduced to 'Other' but none of the other descriptors on offer really feels right. There are more and more people like us of mixed heritage, but the descriptive language seems to have got left behind somewhere in the latter part of the last century.


      • Replies to Karl Jagdis>

        Comment by Robin Tamblyn posted on

        As an asexual person I have the same issues with the "sexual orientation" option on surveys which very rarely includes us asexuals. We shouldn't be stuck in the "Other" box all the time!

  54. Comment by Amy posted on

    A really interesting blog. As a White British person (Irish, Scottish, Polish heritage) this is not something I have to think about for myself very often so it's important for me to hear from my colleagues who do.

    I am a disabled person though and the message is just the same. (I suspect it is for other groups too.) Ask us how we want to be described. Listen to us and learn. We may contradict each other and that is part of the story. Being able to have the conversation is the important thing.

    • Replies to Amy>

      Comment by Anna Tamba posted on

      Thank you Zamilla for writing this article, I have never liked the acronym . It does not describe who I am, my ancestry and heritage. I am a person born in the UK of African descent. I am not someone to be labelled and put in a box as the acronym and term 'Ethnic Minority' suggests.