W.C. Fields once said: 'It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.'
Getting someone’s name right is one of the simplest ways to acknowledge and respect them.
With this in mind, the phrase BAME is simply not fit for purpose in the 21st century.
The term BAME has been used widely in the media, advertising and diversity and inclusion circles in recent years.
It began life as an acronym (grouping together Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic). It is now frequently used as an adjective or assumed to be an identity.
Rather than heralding inclusivity, such usage assumes that all BAME experiences are the same – it unites groups by colour but divides them by culture.
Africa is the most diverse continent on Earth, Asia is home to almost half of the world’s population and minority ethnic seems to group everyone else who is supposedly 'different'.
We all have our own unique viewpoints and ways of doing things to bring to the table – all of which benefit our local communities and wider society.
After over a century in the UK, my family spans four religions, three continents, two world wars and three UK born generations, but just one nationality. BAME does not even begin to describe any of my relatives.
So, I am confused as to why this four-letter acronym is considered sufficient to describe the diverse cultures of this vibrant portion of our UK citizenship. No one I know would describe themselves as BAME.
I am different. There is not a tick box that begins to embrace me. Once when completing a monitoring form, I realised none of the descriptions even remotely described my identity. I am more than a tick box. As I am more than an acronym.
My heritage is important but it would be inaccurate to say that I refer to myself primarily by my grandparents’ origins.
This is the crux of all conversations about race and identity in the UK. We shouldn’t have to choose one part of our identity or rely on a convenient label chosen for us. UK citizens aren’t homogenous and come in a range of colours, religions and cultures.
In the legal profession, referring to solicitors as BAME assumes that Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors all face the same challenges in the workplace.
Everyone will face different challenges in the workplace. Conscious and unconscious bias remain to be two of the most prominent barriers faced by ethnic minority solicitors in the workplace, but even they will manifest differently for each individual.
Many lawyers report being passed over for training opportunities, progression or promotions routinely received by their white colleagues – with similar skill and experience levels.
Others report experiencing micro aggressions – such as being labelled aggressive when you are assertive or only being encouraged to practice in lower paid or unpopular areas of law.
Those with non-British names or who speak English as a foreign language may even find they are rejected at the application stage.
Unconscious biases are based on inaccurate perceptions of people’s abilities based solely on our ethnicity.
These biases become even more apparent when they intersect with other protected characteristics. For example, a Black or Asian solicitor who also has another protected characteristic will experience several layers of bias making it more difficult to reach their full potential.
To create a more inclusive profession, we need to understand the different challenges solicitors face in the workplace and find individualised solutions – but this issue is much larger than just the profession.
Currently, there is a positive, informative groundswell of communication and enquiry, encouraging better inclusiveness. Now would be the perfect time to emphasise that those differences enhance our nation’s understanding and personality. It is probably too late to reflect this in 2021 census.
UK citizens come in all shapes and sizes and are too unique to fit in to the over-generalisation of the BAME narrative. We are best placed to name ourselves.
We could start by modernising something as simple as descriptions in newspaper articles, reports, recruitment advertisements, monitoring forms and consultations - to better reflect the actual and sometimes complex identities of our cultural heritage. So, at last, we can all answer to a name we recognise.
Sarah Austin is a Law Society Council member. All views expressed are personal and are not made in her capacity as a Law Society Council member nor on behalf of the Law Society