...free to think freely


8th December 2021

One down. One to go

The announcement on 7th December by four British broadcasters that they would try to avoid using the acronym BAME is a welcome step in the right direction. A report by the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity criticised the term.

This is welcome news. For once, the media have recognised they have done something wrong and need to change. This lazy lumping together of a huge variety of people simply because they are not “white British” (whatever that means) fails to recognise the uniqueness of any human being and the absurdity of categorising people.

Nobody is born with an ethnic identity. People acquire this arbitary classification because it is imposed by cultural forces beyond their control. People are labelled, and labelling people limits their true potential to be themselves. Every person is a unique individual inheriting characteristics from two parents. That populations from different parts of the world have tendencies towards certain characteristics is an observable fact, but the idea that lumping these characteristics together defines a distinct race is unnecessarily divisive. Almost any population which stays apart within its own bounds will develop some distinctive appearance over time, so it is possible to see a certain Italian or Polish facial ‘look’. It is even possible, within the British, to distinguish Anglo-Saxon features from Danish or Celtic ones, although, in practice, most British people will be a mixture to some extent of these.

And indeed, everyone is a mixture of everyone else to a greater or lesser extent. As we approach Christmas, some people will be reminded of the significance attached by two of the Evangelists to Jesus Christ’s descent from King David. However, it would have been more remarkable, especially given that David had many children and one of his sons is credited with 700 wives and 300 concubines, to find someone in the Near East at the time who was not descended from King David. For with a doubling of ancestors in every generation the Holy Family would have had around 30 doublings back to the time of David, giving over one thousand million ancestors, several times the human population of the whole world at that time! In other words, everyone alive at the time of Christ was almost certainly descended from everyone contemporary with King David who had children and whose line did not subsequently die out.

What was true of the world 2,000 years ago will still be true now. If any of us think of our ancestry over the last thousand year, we too each had over 1,000 million ancestors, and though most of those would be from mutiple routes to the mediæval population of Britain, there would almost certainly be some from much further afield, from the continent, from merchants or other travellers covering larger distances, from Moorish invaders of Spain, from East Africa with whom the later Mediæval merchants traded, from the women crusaders met or men women who followed crusaders met, from British colonies and people trafficked into them, from the Empire, from refugees over the last 1,000 years. Although it was normal for people to spend most of their lives in the same village, there were still a good few who travelled. Some, like Marco Polo, travelled widely. If Christopher Columbus’ sailors brought syphilis back to Europe it is highly likely they left some babies with European descent in the Carribean.

Thousands upon thousands of individual lives are caught up in the great net of history, and as those lives are worked out new lives begin, created by the unique circumstances which brought people together. Ethnicity might describe the appearance of those who stayed put, but less visible is the contribution of those who moved around and kept the human mix churning. We are all interrelated, and dividing us into races is artificial and denies the individuality of every human being. Diversity is continuous; it is not banded into groups.

Yet, within that continuity the desire to classify drives categories, which can be ever more subdivided because of the continuity. However we look at it, lumping all so-called categories except one into a generic catch-all term is a denial of both diversity and continuity, so it is good to see the idea challenged.

Now, if only public communicators could apply the same logic to that other lazy catch-all and multiplying list of initials – LGBTQIA...