Local Activist Wants the Use of BAME Scrapped

Grace Quansah equates the imposition of the term with being raped

Grace Quansah says term BAME “doesn’t come from our experience”
Grace Quansah says term BAME “doesn’t come from our experience”

March 4, 2021

The term ‘BAME’ standing for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic is an acronym that’s increasingly in the spotlight as the Black Lives Matter movement and the impact of coronavirus on ethnic minorities has laid bare inequalities.

But for Black Ealing activist Grace Quansah, she believes “Black Lives do not Matter enough” when this “lazy” and “oppressive” term is used, and is calling for it to be scrapped.

She has long rejected the term “imposed” on her and others in the grouping which she says “doesn’t come from our experience”.

This includes being unhelpful in addressing policy outcomes for different ethnic groups, and not addressing the complexity of racism that exists between them.

And she sees the racial inequality in deaths from coronavirus as exposing these limitations.

Grace explained: “When you look at the statistics, it seems we have got people of Black African heritage who seem to be coming out worse…

“Stats [showed] Black people were dying more than other counterparts, when we have that kind of distinction how does the word BAME help us to understand that inequality?

“It lumps us all together, [but] these statistics are saying we are not in it together, far from it.”

From data collected from March 2 to July 28 by the Office of National Statistics, findings showed Black African males, and Black Caribbean females, had the highest rate of death involving coronavirus during that period.

In using the term BAME, Grace says Black people are being silenced from their experiences, and that lumping diverse groups together “ignores the prevalence of anti-Black racism and intercultural racism”.

From a young age, Grace remembers how she experienced racism differently from her best friend of Asian heritage, for example being “wrongly” put in the bottom set for English at school and having other friends tell her their parents did not accept her because she was Black, and they couldn’t play together after a certain age.

She also recalls a “brutal” experience of racism as a child being “totally scared” as she was taunted and followed by two white children as she tried to walk to her friend’s house. They kicked her shins as she reached the door.

She added: “Why is it that sometimes it gets to that stage I go to a shop, I watch, white person comes in, Asian person comes in, Black person – me – comes in, I’m the one being followed, and I don’t like it.

“When you use the word BAME you are silencing me because you’re saying we’re all the same and we’re not all the same. Statistically, institutionally…I speak to my friends who are not African descended and they don’t seem to have been beaten up like me, they haven’t been arrested like me, they haven’t been spat at.

“It doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced racism, but I’m saying the jeopardy of racism is something I believe differs within different racialized groups.”

Grace is also clear that by rejecting the term, she is not rejecting standing with her “brothers and sisters” from different ethnic minority backgrounds, but instead: “I’m just saying do not reduce me to an acronym, I’m worth a lot more than that.”

As a term derived from the idea of ‘political blackness’, used in British anti-racist movements in the 1970s, Grace feels the notion is no longer relevant as the landscape was completely different.

And on the basis of language, she added: “When I hear the acronym ‘BAME’ applied to someone like me who identifies as a British born woman of African/Ghanaian ancestry, I feel insulted because it has resonances with the word ‘BUM’ – more in tone than context – a useless entity that connotes someone devoid of roots…

“Having this term imposed on me from a hegemonic institutional base has the effect of being ‘raped’! I will not have this oppressive term forced on me so I reject it.

“Tough words but this is my truth.”

The 59-year-old who lives in East Acton was prompted to start raising awareness to reject the acronym in the wake of the horrific killing of George Floyd last year.

In her petition, she is calling for BAME to be scrapped in “print, digital and verbal language”, used by government departments, public bodies, policy makers and diversity professionals.

As a poet, Grace also created a piece called ‘BAME is Not in Our Name’ to convey the argument artistically alongside the campaign.

Within the creative sector, Grace has also been inspired by others calling for this change. In August last year a theatre in Coventry announced it would stop using the term, explaining it was outdated, while non-profit Inc Arts, which aims to diversify the acts sector, held a #BAMEOver debate in September.

It has since released a statement incorporating views of more than 1,000 people who want to reset how to refer to people with lived experience of racism, and call on the government to scrap the word BAME.

Grace is also urging Ealing Central and Acton MP Rupa Huq to lobby the government on the issue, highlighting these campaigns as examples to spread awareness of.

In a letter she said: “This term unhelpfully blends ethnicity, geography, nationality – and in doing so erases identity and reduces people to an ‘other’…

“Give people who experience racism the respect of taking the time to describe them in full words, taking time to understand the unique cultural heritages and ancestries of the individuals you are talking about. “

But Dr Huq has said it is not the time to “disappear in a rabbit hole of unnecessary endless semantic debate.”

She added: “At a time when people are dying, constituents are losing their jobs and being made homeless, businesses going to the wall on a scale unseen in a generation and people suffering multiple hardships this pandemic, which is likely to bring on the mother of all recessions, I will not be lobbying government on changing terminology which is widely understood and serves its purpose without being needlessly divisive.”

As the pandemic continues, Grace, who works as an equalities officer for Ealing Central’s Labour party, says “of course” beating Covid has to be top of the agenda, and has also been working to address the lower vaccine uptake among ethnic minority communities.

In a meeting of the Health and Adult Social Services Standing Scrutiny Panel on February 10, Ealing NHS officials revealed the huge gaps in the percentage of vaccine uptake among different ethnic groups.

‘Black or Black British’ uptake was 48 per cent, compared to ‘Asian or Asian British’ uptake recorded at nearly 72 per cent.

The ‘Mixed’ group had the second lowest uptake at nearly 56 per cent, while the top group for accepting the vaccine was ‘White’ people at 79 per cent.

Grace organised an Ealing Labour event to discuss the concerns in January, and now a public meeting for residents is being held virtually on March 10.

The meeting ‘Vaccination Matters in Ealing’s Black and Brown Communities’, will host a Q&A for residents with speakers ranging from council leader Julian Bell and Dr Huq, to Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon, and nurses Maame Adjoa Musey and Elmie Munday.

But thinking about the bigger picture, Grace believes the language must change to better tackle racism.

“You are not going to work and win the trust of communities that feel silenced by acronyms that they have not been part of its construction,” she said.

“So whether we like it or not language matters, communication is part of language and we need to feel listened to. It has to happen at some stage sooner or later, the tide will change and then we will begin to really build bridges.”

To view Grace’s petition click here.

To sign up to the Vaccination Matters event from 8 to 10pm on Zoom, email quansah@hotmail.com.

Written with contributions from Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter