The Citz Storytellers are launching the next phase of their No Box No Label campaign, which looks at the acronym BAME and why it should no longer be used. Read about the campaign here »

Brendan Lyons – of the No Box No Label campaign – writes here about Black Lives Matter, and how BAME doesn’t speak for the people it claims to…

“There’s a reason we’re saying Black Lives Matter. Not ‘All Lives Matter’. And certainly not ‘BAME Lives Matter’.”

The term BAME, like People of Colour, is one which some people like, and other people don’t. Does that mean we should force it onto people? I don’t feel completely right about doing it, but then I thought that I needed a blanket term with which to discuss racial inequality.

This was because I was told:

“The reason for the distinction is because we (People of Colour) have a totally different experience to white folk, and you people need to understand that there is a separation because the world doesn’t treat us all equal.”

Yet in the same conversation, I was also told:

“Why make a distinction in the first place? We’re all people.”

It seems logical that somewhere in between these two points, there is a common desire for human equality. I have always seen equality as a birth right – however we can’t seem to agree on how to articulate it. Especially when society doesn’t seem to treat all races as if they are equal.

Yet despite there being well-intentioned movements towards positive discrimination within the arts and cultural sector, I have always felt that these movements do little to address the cause of this inequality. Much less so than the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which sought to draw attention specifically to Black peoples’ experiences of racism.

This message seems lost on the many people who claim that ‘All Lives Matter’, and therefore by default are not racist. It’s like a defence mechanism built in resistance against protests. Because in our neo-liberal climate, being BAME is a protected characteristic, alongside gender, sexual orientation and disability. All are lumped within the same category, as grounds for discrimination, so all experiences must be equal. Right?


Because, when you break it down, BAME does not speak to the minority of people it claims to. Being a global population means that, statistically, the majority of people are not white, and therefore why reduce the global majority to a marginalised group that has a common experience of racism? Especially when B stands for ‘Black’, which is a skin colour, A stands for ‘Asian’, which is a continent of origin, and ME stands for the reduction of everyone else to a ‘Minority Ethnic’ group, consisting of everyone who is not classed as ‘White British’.

There doesn’t seem to be any cohesion behind this term. Least of all in its use, which seems benevolent, but in fact stems from our British colonial history whereby white is deemed as ‘right’.

If this is a matter of resolving racial equality, then it doesn’t seem appropriate to lump race, geography and heritage together. Why not say it as it is?

If we are taking the term BAME to mean ‘not white British’, then this should be the term that we use. It may not sit comfortably, but then neither should BAME.

If we are taking the term BAME to mean ‘People of Colour’, then perhaps we should just use the term ‘People of Colour’, even with its problematic link to the segregation of ‘coloured’ people.

If we are using the term BAME to promote positive discrimination and ethnic diversity, then maybe we should switch our focus to ethnicity rather than race. Referring to people’s heritage would be more fruitful than referring to their skin colour, unless we are advertising a job specifically for a Black person.

In which case, we are saying that Black lives matter. Not because all lives don’t matter, but because all lives have a right to express the nature of their oppression, and also to resolve it on their own terms.

To me, this is the ethos behind our No Box, No Label campaign. We stand united on that front. As a company of diverse people, we at Cardboard Citizens seek to challenge oppression wherever we see it, and a big part of this work is in dismantling the labels that are placed unnecessarily upon us.