Well-intentioned But UK Govt’s ‘Bame’ Game Over Vaccine Unlikely to Convince Minorities to Take Dose


London: In these politically correct times – times at least of a widely shared obligation to say politically correct things in public space – what is Britain doing by its official use of that BAME word? The acronym that spells out Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority people. The word that pushes everyone in Britain who is not white under this one shaky umbrella.

BAME gathers non-whites into a defined otherness arising from pigmental and cultural difference from people whose skin colour is white, or some shade of it that is acceptable as white. The word is peculiarly British and particularly awful. White people are people who are white; the rest are shades of a single otherness.

An Indian equivalent would be a single word to gather together everyone outside of a Hindu majority. To find one word for, say, all Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and people from the north-east whether they hold Christian, Buddhist or any other belief. To officially call everyone outside of a numerical majority officially a ‘side-streamer’, say. A Hindu majoritarian who offers such a suggestion would be hanged for it, and not too soon.

Britain has found that an odd prism to view its minorities. The US speaks of black people, of Hispanics, of Indian Americans and what not. Any suggestion that every American who is not ethnically of Anglo-Saxon white origin should share a collectively descriptive name has perhaps never been suggested. Why is Britain practising what would be unthinkable elsewhere?

The categorisation is undoubtedly driven by genuine concern over inequalities and by a need to address these. Those inequalities have not been addressed, far from it, now into a fourth generation or even more after the peak of migration in the fifties and sixties. Most ‘Bames’ of today are British-born, they’re just of a different colour. And yet a rare practising barrister who was black reported days back that he had been mistaken time and again for a porter. Beneath poster-boy and poster-girl images of ministers such as Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel, something is not quite working if the Bame Game still needs to be played, however well-intentioned.

Bame Game Over Vaccines

Other than political correctness, the factual correctness of anything like Bame stands defenceless over take-up of the vaccination drive. It’s been reported widely that the uptake of vaccination amongst the Bame lot is significantly lower than average. But so many striking differences – polarities even – have surfaced over the pattern within Bame as to make such a categorisation misleading.

Over vaccination it emerges that the Indian uptake is very close to that among white people. It is significantly lower among black people, and among Pakistanis and Bangladeshis (see chart). In Bradford in the north of England, Pakistanis were four times as likely to refuse vaccination as Indians. The figure for Indians again is very close to that for white people.

The wide gaps have emerged in the first phase of the vaccination among those in their eighties, and then in the seventies. This should seem baffling because the infection rate, and the death rate has been highest among those now most reluctant to protect themselves against the virus. The National Health Service is fighting what some doctors have called an epidemic of disinformation on vaccines.

Senior doctors are now setting themselves up as role models for the communities they come from by taking the vaccine and letting people know particularly within their communities. Information on the safety of vaccines has been translated into 20 languages and is being posted to all homes.

But now there is a wider promotion on its way. Celebrities such as cricketer Moeen Ali and writer Meera Syal have been roped in to produce a promotional video targeting groups slow to take the vaccine. Their messages seek to reassure people that there is no chip in the vaccine, they contain no animal products, they do not offend halal requirements, and do not cause infertility.

The video has been produced by Adil Ray who made the sitcom Citizen Khan. But there is some concern that the stars are not the faces and the voices that many within the target group may relate to. Meera Syal is not perhaps the best candidate to convince a doubting Pakistani in his seventies about the good of the vaccine.

The sound principle behind the vaccination drive is that no one is safe until everyone’s safe. Which is why the government is driving home the message that just about everyone must get vaccinated. Whether this should be in the name of Bame is another matter.

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