Our first community think-in event, titled "Abolish BAME", was run on June 9th - and was an opportunity for members to lead the discussion on the issue. Members took turns to "take the stage" and say what they thought, with opportunities to respond to each other and discuss in the text chat as well. I took a back seat, taking notes and ensuring everyone that wanted to had a say - and we kept the event going until everyone that wanted to talk had a chance to.
My summary of the event is as follows - and please stick through to the end, because we have a survey to gather feedback both on this summary and responses to it. Three threads appeared in our discussion, which I will try to summarise in turn:
1) Don't call me BAME: Many people expressed a strong dislike of BAME being used as a noun to describe them, and shared stories of other people expressing similar views. BAME is not an ethnicity, and using it in place of people's ethnicity erases their identity. By using it in statistics it also erases sometimes quite significant inequalities between ethnic groups (an effect that's also noted within the broad "white" group). "BAME" has become another way of saying "not white" - othering everyone that fits in the category. People should be considered as part of the diversity of our country, instead of cast as simply "white" or "BAME".
2) BAME is a tool: A lot of people saw BAME as a tool to talk about racism, and the commonality of experience that comes with being "not white" in a country that has both a white majority and a racism epidemic. A racist doesn't see "Afro-Caribbean" or "Bangali"; they see brown skin and they act based on that. Victims of racism need a word to describe themselves as a group with that in common; other words could be "ethnic minority" or simply "non-white", but both have problems. Erasing e.g. "BAME Officers" will probably also erase specific efforts to tackle racial injustice in organisations, mixing them instead with a more general diversity/equality remit.
3) This is a distraction: Some saw this as a distraction, amplified by the government to get an "easy win" and by racists to "divide and rule". The language in the Sewell report specifically was criticised for using "Abolish BAME" arguments to claim racism doesn't exist at all, and that every ethnic group was separately responsible for their own oppression. People are talking about "what to call us" instead of focusing on the real issues of racial injustice - and that's probably by design.
This is a composite summary, and most people only expressed one or two of these views.
What I will be doing now is attempting to piece together a position for the campaign to take that both gives strong, unambiguous direction for the party and commands popular support of the membership. This must not be a hand-wavey compromise, but a consensus-built stance that we can all get behind - something that might be hard to do, but if we can achieve it then the prize is a stronger and more united racial justice movement in the party. There is probably consensus to be found between these views, but I would first like the membership to validate the summary and give a chance for people to raise other points for us to include.
Regardless, one thing the campaign has taken away from this experience is that we should run more of these events. The Liberal Democrat Campaign for Race Equality is a member-led organisation - we have elections every year and our members choose who leads us. But through these events we have an opportunity to tap into the membership more regularly, building cast-iron responses infused with knowledge, expertise and lived experiences.
It feels very much like the kind of consultation we demand in our local areas - and maybe that was why so much of the input was thoughtful and thought-provoking. As a party we have that kind of consensus-building, community-led approach to politics coursing through us - if we can channel that towards eradicating racial injustices then that adds another string to the campaign's bow, and strengthens the party's hand in leading the fight.
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