Racial Categorisation and Terminology

We deplore the use of terminology that serves to perpetuate racial inequality through the reinforcement of White privilege.

The term ‘BME’ should be problematised since it homogenises people from a variety of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and reproduces unequal power relations where White is not a visible marker of identity and is therefore a privileged identity.

To be equitable, every time we refer to White people we should be using the term ‘WMINE’ to reflect White minority ethnic (a global reality) or ‘WMAJE’ White majority ethnic (in western societies with White majority populations). But this does not happen, therefore the term ‘BME’ should not be used unless referring to statistical data where the term has been used at the point of collection. But even then, it should be acknowledged as contested.

The term ‘BME’ is often used as a time-saving short-cut which serves to mask inequalities as they are experienced by different ethnic groups.  The use of this term reinforces racial inequality by maintaining White ethnic identity as privileged – since ‘White’ is never named as an identity, it continues to be normative so that people of colour only exist in a marginalised position that is de-centred by Whiteness.

The term ‘people of colour’ as used in the USA is preferred, because while it homogenises, it is inclusive to all non-White people and does not include ‘minority’ – a term that places non-Whites in a subordinate position to those racialized as White.

An alternative term is ‘racialized minorities’. While also a term that homogenises, it draws attention to the fact that only non-Whites are racialized – and serves to highlight the discursive power of Whiteness. As such the term itself is a critique of Whiteness and therefore a form of resistance.

The term ‘Black’ can also be used politically to refer to non-White groups as a unifying term and one that historically symbolises collective empowerment.

Dr Deborah Gabriel, Founder & Director of Black British Academics