Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ethnic change in England

One of the reasons for the rise of immigration politics in the UK (see UKIP), is the rise in non-white and Eastern European populations. However, given experiences in the USA, the Economist editors seem blindly optimistic in their conclusion.

Into the melting pot
The 2011 census revealed a country that is decreasingly white and British: England’s ethnic-minority population grew from 9% of the total in 2001 to 14%. But the biggest single increase was in the number of people claiming a mixed-ethnic background…

Rob Ford of Manchester University points out that Caribbean folk are following an Irish pattern of integration, in that their partners are often working-class. The Irish parallel also suggests they will eventually be fully absorbed into the British population. Polls show that adults who are a mixture of white and black Caribbean tend to see themselves not so much as black, Caribbean or even as British, but rather as English—the identity of the comfortably assimilated.

Indians, who began arriving in large numbers in the 1960s, were slower to mix. They are now doing so—but along Jewish, rather than Irish, lines. For them, assimilation follows education: according to research by Raya Muttarak and Anthony Heath, Indians with degrees are far more likely to marry whites. Indians are not so much marrying into the white majority as into its suburban middle class, says Shamit Saggar at the University of Essex.

Their children are quietly transforming Britain’s suburbs and commuter towns. Whereas Asians are still concentrated in cities such as Leicester and in London boroughs like Tower Hamlets and Harrow, mixed Asian and white children are widespread…

Pakistanis and Bangladeshis mostly remain in cities, and are mixing more slowly…

As race becomes less clear-cut, schools, hospitals and police forces, which record people’s ethnic identity at almost every opportunity, will have to deal with more fragmented definitions. So too will researchers trying to measure racial injustices. Confusingly, police officers now record the ethnicity of the people they stop and search according to two separate systems: observed ethnic appearance (which does not include a mixed-race category) and self-identified ethnicity (which does).

Politicians in the habit of treating Britain’s ethnic groups as distinct “communities” will also have to adapt. The shrewder black and Asian politicians have already built power bases that do not depend on ethnic block votes. Speeches such as the one made by Tony Blair in 2007 about the culture of black youth violence will look silly when so many black teenagers have white parents too. Crude racist politics, thankfully now rare in Britain, ought to become almost impossible as more white families acquire non-white members. Englishness, which has remained distinctly a white identity for many, may become less exclusive.

Most of all, the rise of mixed-race Britain shows that Britain is capable of absorbing even large numbers of newcomers. For the young, who are used to having people of all backgrounds in their midst, race already matters far less than it did for their parents. In a generation or two more of the melting pot, it may not matter at all.

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