A rose by any other name..
On the 4th of September I was asked by Amanda Parker, the Director of Inc Arts to take part in the #BAMEOver Live Debate and share my own lived experience with over 250 attendees.
Amanda is someone I admire and Inc Arts campaigns for an inclusive arts workforce and have subsequently set up an anti-racism conference for the UK's theatre and dance sectors; ‘Speak - Listen - Reset - Heal’
So, I obviously said yes and took part in a dynamic, thoughtful, nuanced and energising event.
I was asked: What do I like to be called?’
I am Sri Lankan Tamil third generation Catholic originally Hindu Brahmin. In Birmingham where I grew up that pretty much made me a minority of 5. Oh and I was born in Germany. Which made me a minority of two with my brother. Oh and we grew up in Solihull in the 1970s. Which pretty much made me a talking point in the neighbourhood.
My mother took me to Ash Wednesday Mass when I was little (this would have been about 1977/8) and when we got back to school I still had the ash mark on my forehead. The Headmistress, assuming it was a bindi, assured my mother it was absolutely fine to take me out of school for our special religious days and to let her know which days they would be. To which my rather confused mother replied “Well the same as yours really, Easter, Christmas Day.”
So we grew up as exotic, rather than different, in a town where what othered you was if you only had the one car or didn’t have a pony.
My father however was working for the Race Relations Board and was politically very active so I grew up with a understanding of the political agendas that lay behind the othering of black, Asian and other ethnic minorities. I was also a middle-class child with a civil war background and depending on where you were politically my some of my family were either freedom fighters or terrorists.
And when I was asked about this panel, I really thought about how I feel about BAME. Professionally I have been more used to BME but to be honest the terms have always felt irrelevant to me personally. I have never referred to my ethnicity using BAME or BME, and I didn’t think it had been used to describe me.
But that in itself is a privilege.
Of course, I am BAME at every event someone ticks my name off at, I certainly am at every private view I am photographed at to be used in Arts Council evaluations.
My cultural heritage is unique and distinct to me. But apparently according to many of the events I am invited to, I am the same as everyone from the South Asian diaspora.
BAME more than any other acronym has been used to obfuscate and hide the systemic inequalities that are inherent in the cultural sector.
BAME is used by people who feel their job is done if someone BAME is on a panel or employed at an entry level post. It is for people who posted black squares on Instagram and came up with anti-racist statements without looking at their all white boards. It’s used for people doing work for the so called hard to reach- it is now almost interchangeable with the word community and will almost definitely be found in the Outreach and Education section of an annual report.
It is redolent of patriarchy and benevolence- it is about invitations in and permissions. It blurs and homogenises in order to make difference palatable whilst simultaneously perpetuating othering. Using BAME implies we are one homogeneous group and conflates everything into one. And in doing so it erases us.
BAME is about privilege and even more so it is about neglect. It neglects to recognise the individuality of our ethnicity and about our lived experience. It neglects to recognise our diversity, our equality and our humanity.