In our continuing efforts to realise our ambition to be an antiracist organisation, we’ve been working closely with leaders across the voluntary sector from organisations led by, and focussed on, racially minoritised people, our trustees and staff team, to explore what this means for our organisation. Together, we’ve explored the idea that in striving to be antiracist we must recognise that some of our practices and activities must in some ways be racist. Here I’ll update you on one part of that work: to consider our language and messaging – what we think and how we say it – in this context.
Through careful consideration of the language and messaging we currently use to describe inequality and racism in the criminal justice system and the people who experience it – and what changes might be needed – we’re aiming to ensure that in the future these things challenge – rather than contribute – to racist ideas, actions and policies.
It has been important to consider in our discussions the context of attempting to be anti-oppressive within a system and structure that is oppressive by its very nature. Racially minoritised people experience double discrimination as a result of both racism and contact with the criminal justice system. Their criminalisation intersects with the politicisation of the issue and is responsible for a range of tropes around race and crime which our language and messaging must seek to challenge.
Removing the BAME acronym
Black, Asian and minority ethnic and its acronym BAME is an administrative term used by the government to categorise people. Up until now we have also used this term. But categorising people in this way conceals individual identities and experiences, both of which are particularly important in the context of desistance theory and people’s journeys away from the criminal justice system. Going forward we will always seek to refer to “individuals” and “people” in our descriptions, and where possible use the most disaggregated category in order to avoid othering, assuming homogeneity, ignoring intersectionality, and placing recognition on some groups over others.
At times we may need to use a collective term to refer to inequalities across groups. In some ways all these potential terms are problematic because we are essentially trying to find words to describe people who are perceived as different from the established ‘norm’ and the language we have to do this could therefore be viewed as structurally racist in and of itself.
Winning the argument: structural and institutional racism exists
In our current work on race inequality in the criminal justice system we refer regularly to structural racism, institutional racism, overrepresentation, inequality, unequal outcomes and disparities. We cannot be antiracist unless we talk about structural and institutional racism and make it clear that issues such as discrimination, over-representation, unequal outcomes, disparities, and inequalities are symptoms of this.
In the future we will ensure we explicitly make the links between structural racism and specific racist policies and outcomes. In doing so we’ll make clear our stance that it’s no accident that people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and structural inequality is not immoveable.
Influencing government policy requires Clinks to maintain close working relationships with decision makers, often working in a pragmatic way ‘inside’ the system to ensure the voluntary sector has a place at strategic and decision-making tables. It is sometimes perceived that, as a result, we can’t be vociferous and hold true to our principles. However, in the context of race inequality in the criminal justice system, the sector’s place at the table is meaningless without acknowledgement of why it should be there. Therefore, we must win the policy argument: structural and institutional racism exists. Without referring to its existence we will simply fall foul of other analyses of the disparities in the system which are themselves racist.
Changing our language
We have made the following decisions about the messages and language we use from now on.
We DO refer to:
Racially minoritised people
Organisations led by and focused on racially minoritised people
Where possible if we are referring to particular groups we use the most disaggregated term possible to describe people, rather than broad labels. For example: Black African people, Irish Traveller people, Muslim people
When comparing experiences across racial or ethnic groups in the criminal justice system we do not refer to the ‘norm’ or ‘control group’ as white. For example,
We write, “Racially minoritised people experience worse outcomes in the criminal justice system than non-racially minoritised people”
We DO NOT write, “Racially minoritized people experience worse outcomes in the criminal justice system than white people.”
We make links between discrimination, over representation, unequal outcomes, disparities, inequalities and structural and institutional racism explicit in order to ensure that we are not wrongly understood to imply that disparities and over representation might be accidental or structural racism immoveable.
We DO NOT refer to:
Black, Asian and minority ethnic people or ethnic minorities unless it is absolutely necessary to do so when quoting, or referring to, data and publications which use these terms – and where by not using these terms it would misrepresent the data or information we are referring to. If we do use these terms we footnote it with the following wording: Clinks strives to use language that challenges and does not contribute to racist ideas, actions and policies. In our own work we do not use this term and recognise it can be othering, assume homogeneity, ignore intersectionality, and place recognition on some groups over others. We use it here in reference to the work of others and because removing the term might misrepresent the data and information we are referring to.
When writing “Black, Asian and minority ethnic” in reference to other work (see above) we do not use the acronym BAME.
People of Colour
‘Black and Brown people’ as a collective term
‘Black, Brown, Gypsy, Traveller’ as a collective term
We capitalise all races and ethnicities. For example: Black people, NOT black people, Traveller NOT traveller , Gypsy NOT gypsy.
We're aiming to make all the necessary changes across our communications channels, in order to ensure our language is consistent with these updates to our writing style guidance, as soon as possible.
Image: PRT and Prisoner Policy Network at Clinks conference 2019 - Copyright Ian Cuthbert