Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

6 December 2009

Correspondence with the ONS on the 2011 Census for England and Wales

Further to my previous post on this topic, I received the following reply to my complaint alleging racial discrimination in the way the national-identity and ethnic-group categories are structured in the proposed 2011 Census form for England and Wales:



I have now replied in the following terms:

6 December 2009

Your ref. TO 09 103

Dear Ms Bray,

Thank you for your letter of 4 November 2009, in response to my earlier email drawing the attention of the ONS to my concerns about the national-identity and ethnic-group questions on the proposed 2011 Census form for England and Wales.

I am sorry it’s taken me so long to reply: I’ve been preoccupied with other work and personal matters.

I appreciate your setting out of the ONS’s position and note your points. I do, however, continue to think that the national-identity and ethnic-group questions are discriminatory in two main ways:

  1. Non-white ethnic groups are not treated equally to the white-British ethnic group, in that there is no official acknowledgement – as reflected in the ethnic-group categories used in the form – that they might wish to refer to their ethnicity as ‘English’ (or Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish) instead of, or in addition to, ‘British’. There are no categories such as ‘Asian English’ or ‘Black English’, only ‘Asian British’ and ‘Black British’. This makes English by implication a purely white-racial ethnicity that is not to be officially ascribed to non-white persons. This is quite racist, in my view.
  2. The white-British ethnic group is not treated equally to non-white ethnic groups, in that the form makes it admissible for non-white ethnic groups to break down their ethnicity into major regional or national sub-categories (e.g. Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi; or African and Caribbean) but does not regard it as admissible in the same way for white-British people to specify English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish separately. If non-white groups were treated in the same way, this would be like saying to them that they had to treat ‘Asian’ or ‘Black’ as a single category (albeit one that subsumed the respective sub-categories) without separate tick boxes for those sub-categories.

I expect you might respond by saying there is no actual ‘white-British’ ethnic group in the form, which actually reads ‘English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British’ as a sub-category of ‘White’. But this does equate to a white-British ethnic group, by virtue of not separating out the constituent parts of Britain, and by differentiating between UK and non-UK white groups. As you yourself write: “there was not a strong need expressed to identify separate components of the ‘English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British’ tick box of the ethnic group question since such a breakdown is offered in the national identity component of the question in England and Wales”. But national identity is not at all the same thing as ethnic group. What you are effectively saying is that, for official purposes, it is irrelevant (or merely ‘subjective’, as you say elsewhere) if a white respondent regards their ethnic group as ‘English’. Officially, whatever that person thinks, they will be treated as ethnically British; and the only official recognition that is given to that person’s Englishness is as a national, not ethnic, identity.

Summarising my two points above, the two ways in which the form is discriminatory and even borderline racist are:

  • ‘English’, ‘Welsh’, ‘Scottish’ and ‘Northern Irish’ are white-only ethnic terms – not officially accorded to non-white persons: this discriminates against non-white persons
  • At the same time, ‘English’, ‘Welsh’, ‘Scottish’ and ‘Northern Irish’ are not officially allowable as stand-alone ethnic groups, but may be treated separately only if considered as national identities: this is discriminatory towards white-British persons and is tantamount to a sort of whitewashing and censorship of their ethnic identity.

I suppose another argument that you might bring forward at this point is that the mere fact that there is not a tick box for a given category does not prevent individuals from writing it in. That is true; but the very fact that there are no tick boxes for certain options results from choices driven by administrative and political considerations. And these choices can be seen to be a manifestation of racial discrimination and ethnic-identity politics whenever there is no objective, rational or scientific basis for ascribing certain national and / or ethnic designations to one racial group in society while denying it to others. Why shouldn’t black or Asian people be encouraged to think of themselves as English as well as British? Why should white-English people be denied official recognition of their Englishness as an ethnicity while officialdom does recognise separate Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi ethnic groups? After all, these latter are national terms, in the first instance (like English, Scottish, etc.), rather than ethnic; but they’re treated as valid ethnic-group categories, while English, Scottish, etc. are not.

Damagingly, the form is also racist in a more all-embracing and subtle way: it makes Britishness more fundamentally a property of racially white persons than non-white persons. This is how:

  • ‘English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish’ are applied to white persons only
  • In addition, ‘English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish’ stand in a privileged relationship to ‘British’: they are treated as sub-categories, or ‘components’ (to use your word), of the white-British ethnic group within which they are subsumed – making them effectively interchangeable with ‘British’
  • As a consequence, ‘British’, too, is implicitly regarded as more properly applicable to white persons
  • This is manifested in the fact that ‘British’ (i.e. ‘English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British’) is a sub-category of ‘white’, whereas it is not allowed to be a sub-category of the Asian, black or mixed categories. If ‘British’ were genuinely an ethnic-group term, not a white-racial term, then there should be no problem in listing it, with a tick box, on the same level as ‘Indian’, ‘Pakistani’, etc. or as ‘African’, ‘Caribbean’, etc. In this way, you could describe yourself, for instance, an ‘ethnically British’ (or, indeed, English etc.) and racially Asian or black person at one and the same time.

    Adding ‘British’ to the generic terms used in the form for non-white ethnic groups (e.g. ‘Asian British’ and ‘Black British’ ) makes ‘British’ a designator neither of such persons’ race nor of their ethnic group. The form does not postulate anything such as a ‘Black British race’ or an ‘Asian British race’, and the term ‘British’ here is used merely to signify national identity; e.g. ‘Asian British’ means a ‘British-identifying, racially Asian person of the Indian / Pakistani / Bangladeshi / etc. ethnic group’.

  • Ultimately, then, non-white British persons are denied a fully British-ethnic identity, equal to that of white-British persons, because British ethnicity is implicitly derived from the white race. And, at the same time, the white-British race is identified with the terms ‘English’, ‘Welsh’, ‘Scottish’ and ‘Northern Irish’, which are also seen in purely racial terms and are denied to non-white people.

To summarise the above arguments: by denying non-white persons official recognition as English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish, they are also excluded from British identity on equal terms to white-British persons. This is because the British-ethnic identity is ultimately still seen as rooted in the white-race-only indigenous national-ethnic groups of the UK.

Perhaps this is the fundamental reason why ‘ethnically British’ persons are discouraged by the form from thinking of their ethnic group as ‘English’, ‘Welsh’, etc. The fear perhaps is that if people are given official ‘permission’ to think of themselves as ethnically English, they will construe this in purely racial terms, rather than in a civic or cultural sense. But these racial assumptions are in fact those of the Census form itself. This sees Englishness (and the identities of the other UK nations), and the British ethnicity of which Englishness is regarded as an integral part, in purely racial terms. And because of this, non-white British persons are regarded as British only in respect of their national identity and nationality (citizenship), not their ethnicity.

By negating the idea of whites and non-whites meeting on a common ground of Englishness – English culture, English civic society and English ethnicity – the form drives a wedge between the different ethnic groups of England, making even the ideal of a shared Britishness elusive: the Britishness of white-English persons being racial-ethnic as well as national, while that of non-whites living in England is that of British nationals only.

In view of the above points, I still consider that there could be a case for racial discrimination and racism to be examined by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. However, I would still be interested in your response to my points before I submit a claim to the EHRC.

Yours sincerely,

David Rickard

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5 Comments »

  1. David you are actually wrong, if the correspondance from the ONS i have received is correct.
    If we take the inputted data as individual rather than data of millions of people.
    Take a look at the Census form as I would fill it in.
    Q15, How would you describe your national identity.
    (I tick) ENGLISH
    Q16, What is your ethnic group.
    (I tick) White; English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British

    Therefore I am White ethnic English.

    Ian Wright the footballer
    Q15, National Identity: ENGLISH
    Q16, Ethnic Identity: Black Caribbean

    Therefore he is Black ethnic Caribbean English

    So, I think, it can be done.

    I posted several of my correspondences with Ms Wort etc. Basically it can be done but whether they do it or not hasn’t been decided.
    We need to show that there is a demand for our White ethnic English to be statistically counted.
    I believe that the Facebook protest the Westminster petition and constent E-mails to the ONS should be proof enough, but we all know how our government tend not to listen especially if your White ethnic English.

    We have never had a count of the white ethnic population of England, so have no idea of the effects of mass immigration today or ten years down the line when 75% of the population growth will have been from immigration and immigrant child rate.

    Comment by Andrew Cooper — 7 December 2009 @ 12.49 am | Reply

    • Thanks, Andy; and I did notice your correspondence in the comments on the previous article. I don’t think ticking ‘English’ under national identity and ‘White – English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British’ under ethnic group equates to ‘white ethnic English’ as you say, or as the ONS tries to make out. I think that equates to ‘English-identifying white ethnic-British’, because the ethnic-group category in question really means ‘British’, and national identity is being taken as a subjective identity, not a supposedly ‘objective’ one like ethnicity.

      I personally don’t fully know what to put down under ethnic group, because at least three distinct things could come under that heading: race, ethnicity defined in relation to family and genetic origin, and ethnicity defined in relation to culture. What I presently understand under ‘ethnic group’ is basically ‘how would you describe the “community” or “group within society” to which you belong, where these terms are defined by reference to both race and culture?’. In that sense, I’d have to reply ‘white English’, which I think requires me to write in the answer, because this information is not explicitly spelled out if I tick ‘English’ as national identity and ‘English / Welsh / Scottish / N. Irish / British’ as ethnic group. For example, if I were a racially white Scot who was fully integrated into the English community where he’d been living for 20 years, it would be valid for him to say his national identity was Scottish but his ‘ethnic group’ was white English, or white English + white Scottish separately, given the ambiguity of the ethnic-group category.

      I think they really need three categories: national identity; race; and ‘cultural background’, with the different UK nations all being given separate tick boxes under the latter category. Then I’d tick ‘English’, ‘white’, and probably ‘English’ + ‘British’ respectively, making me an English-identifying white person from an English / British cultural background. Is that the same as ‘white ethnic English’? I think so, more explicitly than under the present set-up at any rate. Does it make me ‘racially white-English’? No, because the form wouldn’t be postulating that there is a white-English race as such (the racial terms would be generic, e.g. white, black, Asian, etc.). But you could write that in under race in if you do believe in a white-English race as such.

      Comment by David — 7 December 2009 @ 3.21 am | Reply

  2. ps. The correspondences i have had with the ONS I have put in your other article in regard to the Census.

    Comment by Andrew Cooper — 7 December 2009 @ 12.54 am | Reply

  3. David: I agree that they appear to be mixing up their racial definitions.
    What they are doing is allowing anyone of any colour to tick whichever Q15, national identity category they wish. If a white person considers himself British then he will tick British and the Q16,White Engl/Wel/Sct/Iri?British therefore he will be British White British.
    Now I understood national identity to be one of where one lives. A multi cultural multi racial multi non identity so your Scot example would indeed tick English because he lives in England.
    I dont think that the ONS sees it this way. They have used a system whereby if you consider yourself multi racial then your multi identities can be counted.
    If you want to be White Scottish English then tick the Q15, Scottish then write in Q16B. Mixed identity White English.
    But surely a Scottish/English person would consider himself British in any case?

    Comment by Andy Cooper — 7 December 2009 @ 10.45 am | Reply

  4. National identity – English
    Ethnicity – Anglo-Saxon

    Comment by jameshigham — 11 December 2009 @ 2.04 pm | Reply


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