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What’s in a name? Why Karlene’s role title has changed

Along with some organisations, the Church of England has re-categorised people like me. Whilst it’s perfectly natural to be part of a group that gives us a sense of belonging and identity, the monitoring of ‘race’, ethnicity, religion, gender, or any other difference is essential, many argue, to prevent systemic discrimination and ensure diversity and inclusion in our organisational structures. And refusals to implement targeted measures would render certain groups vulnerable to institutional racism.

The acronym BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) was the default term used by the government, companies and organisations to refer collectively to non-white groups. The problem is that what began as an acronym was soon misused as a noun i.e. our BAME employees, and became a word that labelled and homogenised people from a wide variety of ethnicities, countries, languages, cultures etc. BAME became a catch-all word to describe people from African, Caribbean, South Asian, Eastern Asian or any number of different heritages. Consider if white British people were routinely labelled WME (White Majority European) without acknowledgement of English, Scots, Irish, Welsh, or any other heritages.

Secondly, the casual use of BAME resulted in many individuals feeling that their identity had been erased, or that they are ‘othered’ as intrinsically different and so needed to be systemised and racialised.

Lastly, there is a tendency for BAME to be used negatively; highlighting deficits, lack, underachievement etc. It is about what happens to individuals rather than an affirmation of identity. BAME arguably has long-served its purpose.

The alternative? There is no classification that is acceptable to all, and notions of nationality and identity are constantly evolving. Within the Church of England, the acronym UKME has been adopted as recognition that within the UK there are people from a minority ethnic background, but only because they are in the UK. The term Global Majority Heritage (GMH) is a reminder that minorities in the UK are often from a majority world culture, e.g. Africans, Indians. In Hong Kong, those who qualify will soon be allowed to emigrate to the UK. Although from a majority Chinese heritage, they will automatically be classified as ‘minority ethnic’ in the UK.

For now, UKME will suffice and, to reflect this change, my title has also changed; from Bishop’s Adviser for Black and Minority Ethnic Affairs to Bishop’s Adviser for UK Minority Ethnic Affairs. Our abiding hope is that one day classifications will cease to exist – that despite any differences, we will matter-of-factly just view one another as simply that – another person.

The Revd Karlene Kerr, Bishop’s Adviser for UK Minority Ethnic Affairs.