Language affects how our minds develop. It contributes to how our biases, assumptions and stereotypes are created. Growing up, I was always called half-caste, like many mixed race kids. It was the common term used and as such I identified with it myself. It wasn’t until I read John Agard’s poem Half-caste in school that I realised ‘I’m not half of nuffin. I am all me!’ It was a revelation. I always wonder what would have happened if that poem wasn’t on the curriculum and wasn’t picked by my school. It has taken a further 16 years to get to a place where I feel like a whole person. Language matters!
The newly renamed Race Equality Caucus will be replacing its use of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) with Global Ethnic Majority (GEM) going forward. The Black Lives Matter movement has helped to air views on how passionately disliked the term BAME has been for a while amongst the people it is usually used to describe.
We already knew the phrase BAME was problematic. The acronym, constantly used as an noun, and constantly misused by people who are actually talking about a specific ethnicity. It groups all minoritised people who aren't the 86% white British together, often masking further inequalities faced by certain ethnic groups. Without any sense of uniformity, the acronym conflates both race and ethnicity, merging them as though they are the same. ‘Black’ focusing on racial physical characteristics and ‘Asian’ on ethnicity, with people identified through reference to a continent and thereby focussing on a geographical location. Then we have the term ‘minority ethnic’, or ‘ethnic minority’ which is tagged on the end to make sure the phrase includes everyone else that doesn't fit into the group of black or Asian.
So why GEM? Don’t get me wrong, GEM isn’t perfect, because it is still a grouping together of people who have a variety of different racialised experiences as though we are one homogenous group. We know that this needs to be broken down so we can understand the experiences, challenges and barriers of each different ethnic group, and where possible we must commit to this as the Women’s Equality Party and as a society. Because if we can eradicate racism, the term GEM won't be needed at all. That is a day that all of us in the Race Equality Caucus are looking forward to.
Similarly to the phrase politically Black, which was popular during the British civil rights movement, GEM offers the opportunity to draw people from different ethnic backgrounds together in unity to fight for racial equality and to support each other when our communities are under attack. For me this new positive reframing is one tiny step on the road to a society without racism, because at each juncture there has been a cultural shift as racial phrases previously used by all become unacceptable and their offensiveness publicly acknowledged.
Because a survey was used, I can’t give you a clear answer as to why GEM was the new term picked by the Race Equality Caucus membership, but I can tell you what it means to me. Using the phrase Global Ethnic Majority correctly positions us as our ethnicities sit on the global stage. It points out our power as a majority and highlights the importance of perspective. It means our acronym is a ‘precious or semi-precious stone, especially when cut and polished’ and ‘an outstanding person or thing’. Our emoji is a diamond. Global Ethnic Majority transforms our image from the oppressed and othered to something of high value. We know our worth. We are GEMs in every situation we are in because, instead of a minority view, our diversity makes companies more money when we sit on their boards. It brings colour, flavour, festivities, music, and the list goes on. We’ve known our worth for generations, now it is time mainstream society caught up.
So what can you do? You can replace the use of BAME with GEM too. It is one small piece of anti-racism which may help to stop future kids from internalising that they are lesser, but instead see themselves as the gems that they are.