The 2011 National Census is now being sent out. ‘National Census’ is something of a misnomer, though, as the Census has in fact been devolved: there are separate Censuses for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The only difference between the forms in England and Wales will be the order in which the options ‘English’ and ‘Welsh’ appear, along with the existence of a Welsh-language version. All three Censuses ask a question about ‘national identity’, containing similar options. Below, for illustration, is the English version:
The Censuses also ask about respondents’ ‘ethnic group’. Here, however, the differences are more substantive. In England and Wales, ‘non-white’ persons are not offered the option of including ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’ as part of their ethnic-group identity: they’re classified only as ‘Black British’ or ‘Asian British’, and not ‘Black English’ or ‘Asian Welsh’, for instance. By contrast, black and Asian persons living in Scotland are permitted to identify as ‘Black Scottish’ and ‘Asian Scottish’.
In other words, according to ‘British’ officialdom, ‘English’ (and ‘Welsh’) is a white-only term. If that sounds a bit BNP, that’s because this is indeed a form of racial apartheid.
See below, for comparison, the ethnic-group questions for England and Scotland:
So if the Census is read as further confirmation by those like Baroness Warsi who use such 'evidence' to argue that the English have been less successful than the Scots at integrating non-white groups within an inclusive national-ethnic identity, this is totally meaningless. In fact, the Census provides further evidence of how British officialdom actively discourages non-white ethnic groups from identifying as English.
Non-white respondents can of course write in ‘English’ as the name for their ethnic group. But how many black or Asian respondents are going to write ‘English’ in the space left blank for ‘any other Black / African / Caribbean background’ or ‘any other Asian background’? Even if people from those groups think of their culture as English, they’re not going to write ‘English’ here because ‘English’ isn’t exactly an Afro-Caribbean or Asian ‘background’ as such.
Meanwhile, if you are, as I am, white and English, the only option in the Census form is ‘white-English’. This hyphenated, racialised identity is implied by the fact that ‘English’ is a sub-category of ‘White’ alone on the form. But I consider myself to be part of an English ethnic group or culture, not a white-English racial grouping. My English culture has nothing to do with the colour of my skin. So how should I answer this question?
In fact, the Census for England and Wales sets up a dubious ‘white-British’ racial-ethnic category, implied by the form’s single ‘English / Welsh / Scottish / N. Irish / British’ tick box under the ‘White’ heading. This could be viewed as more inclusive than a separate white-English category. But, if anything, it’s even more racially divisive, as it’s predicated on the BNP-like concept of ‘indigenous’ Britons (i.e. the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish), as opposed to non-whites, who are viewed as British only in the political sense.
So how do I indicate an inclusive, non-racially defined English identity on the form? First, by ticking ‘English’ in the national-identity question; and second, by refusing to tick ‘White – English / Welsh / Scottish / N. Irish / British’ in the ethnic-group question. Instead, I’ll just write in ‘White’ again, rather than writing in ‘English’ (by implication, ‘white-English’) as others intend to do.
I’m happy to be seen as white. But I won’t be pigeonholed as ‘white-English’, still less as someone who insists on a white-English racial identity. My ethnicity is English, not my skin colour.
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