It’s a question worth asking; who dreams up the acronyms used to label people, and do they consult the people they are labelling?
Case in point, former cabinet minister Priti Patel told BBC Radio Kent that she has warned colleagues not to “label me as BME”. She says that she finds the acronym for Black and Minority Ethnic (people) “patronising” and “insulting”. The Conservative MP for Witham said she wanted to encourage more people from Indian backgrounds to get involved in politics, but that it would be a “regressive step” for any political party or government to put people in posts “just because they are women or because they represent a minority group”.
“I don’t like the labelling of people.” she explained “I don’t like the term BME. I’m British first and foremost, because I was born in Britain. I challenge all my colleagues in the Conservative Party and in Westminster: Don’t label me as a BME. I’ve said that to people in the cabinet. I’ve said that to civil servants. I think it’s patronising and insulting.”
Ms Patel said the term was “totally unhelpful because we are people and everybody wants to be recognised for their individual merits”.
We’ve long been of the opinion that many labels are created and used by people who want to emphasise cultural, racial, sexual and religious differences between people. There are plenty of politicians who have based their careers on talking up cultural differences, and many more whose jobs rely on the existence and ‘differentness’ of groups in our society.
Ms Patel is British, a person or a woman; take your pick. Referring to her as BME comes across as racist and derogatory, as if she can only be referred to on the basis of the colour of her skin.
It’s no longer enough for us all to be people; we also need an acronym to allow politicians to classify, stereotype, condemn or patronise us.