How important is race to ‘Englishness’?


by Sunny Hundal    
10:05 am - April 23rd 2012

      Share on Tumblr

A major report by the think-tank British Future, released today, looks at attitudes to nationality across the United Kingdom.

The report ‘This Sceptred Isle’ forcuses on questions about modern British identity and sources of national pride.

One part of the report focuses on the importance of race to identity. Here is what the report finds:

Big majorities – well over 80% – agree that to be counted as English, people need to pay their taxes here, ’contribute to society’ and consider themselves English.

Around three in four think that an important factor is whether they were born in England.

But 56% say it is very or fairly important that their parents were born in England, while 41% regard it as not very, or not at all, important.

Does race matter?
Just 22% say it is ‘very or fairly important’ that someone is white if they are to be regarded as truly English. A further 25% say it is ‘not very important’; bringing the total to 47%.

The proportion saying being white is ‘not at all important’ was 49%.

In contrast, Scottish and Welsh people divide by almost two-to-one in saying that race does not matter at all.

Demographic breakdown
• Over 60s: important to some degree 64%; not important at all 35%
• Readers of red-top tabloids: 56%, 41%
• Working class voters: 55%, 41%
• Conservative supporters: 55%, 43%
• Labour supporters: 46%, 51%
• Middle class voters: 42%, 53%
• Under 40s: 39%, 56%
• Readers of upmarket papers: 39%, 61%
• Liberal Democrat supporters: 32%, 67%

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: News

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


1. the a&e charge nurse

Oh god, not more self-flagellation – where are we going with this?

Whatever anybody says ‘it’ is (being English), somebody will say the opposite – in the minds of many liberals, englishness is increasingly synonymous with groups like the EDL, or BNF?

2. the a&e charge nurse

[2] christ, BNF (british national formulary) – meant BNP …… but I’m sure commentators saw BNP, anyway?

3. Chaise Guevara

@ 1 a&e

“Oh god, not more self-flagellation – where are we going with this?”

A debate over the meaning of “Englishness” would be a waste of time, but the figures above shed interesting light on national attitudes and levels of racism (braces for angry people saying I’m wrong to use that word, as it only applies to people actually punching a black guy while shouting “White Power!”).

The moral I’m taking away is “don’t read red-tops”.

And yeah, “BNF” translated itself automatically.

4. Shrugged...

I think that these figures are remarkably good, given the challenging World in which we live. Imagine what they would have been just one generation ago – the time of Love Thy Neighbour.

Of course the Scots and Welsh have had a very different multi-cultural experience to the English, which explains their differing views.

No self-flagellation required.

5. Sunder Katwala

It is worth noting that these “not important at all” numbers put three categories against one, by having “a little bit” with “very” and “fairly important”.

There’s some flaws here, surely? I’d be interested to know where the sample groups were taken from, ethnicity of those asked &c. I was always under the impression that various ethnic groups tended to see themselves as British-Asian &c rather than English-Asian &c. Is there a gap between how various ethnicities see themselves and how white population see them?

Also, with the idea of ‘contributing to the country being a signifier of identity’, I’m curious as to how (or if) this relates to right wing press polemics on ‘sponging ethnics’.

I’d like to see a lot more detail on urban vs rural and even North vs South, particularly in England. I’ve a feeling that much of the figures for a polled urban North would be different than a rural (or even urban) South on a lot of these issues.

Regarding some of the ‘associations’, I’d like to have seen this expanded on. Associating the flag with the Empire, Armed Forces &c., is that good associations or bad associations?

7. margin4error

shrugged

Completely agree – these figures show just how little race plays on our perception of what it is to be English. A sense of belonging and simple geography seem to be the much more significant factors – and that’s a very pleasing sign for those of us who like to think of England as a racially comfortable nation.

Sunny

why post “not very important” as part of the “race matters” grouping? That seems a little odd to me. People are often averse to saying absolutes in polls, and hence a not quite “absolute” negative and positive option is usually included. This one seems to sit unambiguously with the race does matter group.

Big majorities – well over 80% – agree that to be counted as English, people need to pay their taxes here, ’contribute to society’ and consider themselves English.

So, if I move to Japan for a year – and, thus, stop paying taxes and contributing to society – do I stop being English? (I’m sure the Japanese won’t see it that way.)

Interesting you apostophed ‘englishness’ and not ‘race’. Is ‘race’ more real than ‘englishness’?

10. Chaise Guevara

@ 8 BenSix

Good point. I’m guessing that people assumed or were told that the survey referred to British residents.

I’m rather more suspicious of the “contributing to society” bit. If a born-and-bred Brit spends a career as a criminal before being jailed, hence being a drain on society, does that suddenly make them French or something?

So odds are these criteria are (consciously or otherwise) being applied to immigrants whose Britishness might be in question, not to Brits who can trace their nationality back several generations.

11. margin4error

Step left

in fairness – it is a study of what makes enlgishness – and as such it is framing englishness as the unknown entitiy in contrast to things like age and race, against which englishness is being considered.

Out of historical interest, readers may be interested to know about Francis Barber, the man servant of Samuel Johnson, the famed lexicographer who strongly opposed slavery:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/immig_emig/england/stoke_staffs/

The descendants of Francis Barber still live in Staffordshire.

13. the a&e charge nurse

[11] “it is framing englishness as the unknown entity” – as a matter of interest is being english more mysterious than being portugese or, I don’t know, peruvian?

Anyway, what is the actual point of such surveys – are we meant to be slapping ourselves on the back, mavelling at how socially cohesive we are nowadays, or is it meant to be an indicator of how well, or badly some people are doing in understanding what being english actually means?

Is there a special test similar to one undertaken by those who wish to become american citizens?
http://www.800citizen.org/us_citizenship_test/

If we followed the yanks example at least we would have an objective, albeit still imperfect measure, so would no longer have to rely on meaningless surveys?

It can be difficult for us moderns to think rationally about issues like this, because we’re so influenced by the idea and necessity of anti-racism.

I think there is a continuum of permissible attitudes to race operating between two poles. One pole is what I’ll call the “traditional” reading of anti-racism. This says that ethnicity or race does not matter and shouldn’t be treated as though it does. The other pole is the more “radical” reading of anti-racism. This reading says that racial or ethnic ties exist and are powerful, and that the government and other relevant social institutions should act to suppress them in some cases and strengthen them in other cases, in order to create a more perfect and equal social order.

For example, in answer to the question, how important is race to Englishness, two distinct answers are prepared for you. “Race is completely irrelevant to Englishness,”—traditional reading of anti-racism—and, “racial diversity is very important to Englishness,”—radical reading of anti-racism. If there is a question here it is which one is more correct in terms of the liberal standard of anti-racism.

15. Chaise Guevara

@ 14 vimothy

You’re using two definitions of “Englishness” there – the first being what makes you English, and the second being what we consider English values.

Race is only important to white europeans, but the funny thing is you go to any ethinic area in britain and you will find, hindu, muslims, sikhs, black, african, polish etc. put one asian in a white area and they will get years of abuse and racist cops givign them leaflets instead of making arrests, and the EDL have the pookin cheek to say tehy are having their rights removed!

Englishness is a funny race of people and ever involving, to be truelly british now you must be able to drape a st georges flag on your back while urinating on WW2 memorial and do a nazi salute all at the same time! and for the true nationalist this must be done while drunk!

18. Robin Levett

@a&ecn #13:

Is there a special test similar to one undertaken by those who wish to become american citizens?
http://www.800citizen.org/us_citizenship_test/

If we followed the yanks example at least we would have an objective, albeit still imperfect measure, so would no longer have to rely on meaningless surveys?

We have a UK citizenship test – see:

http://lifeintheuktest.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/

A couple of years ago I tried both the US and the UK tests online; I scored higher on the US than the UK…

Chaise,

I’m not sure I follow you. Perhaps you could expand?

20. the a&e charge nurse

[18] thanks, Robin – first time I’ve seen this – I suppose that is an instant fail?

Just looking at the video – was it made by Chris Morris?
http://www.tsoshop.co.uk/bookstore.asp?FO=1240167&DI=578052&TRACKID=002417

21. Chaise Guevara

@ vimothy

Sure. I’m responding mainly to this part of your post:

“For example, in answer to the question, how important is race to Englishness, two distinct answers are prepared for you. “Race is completely irrelevant to Englishness,”—traditional reading of anti-racism—and, “racial diversity is very important to Englishness,”—radical reading of anti-racism. If there is a question here it is which one is more correct in terms of the liberal standard of anti-racism.”

The idea that race is irrelevant to Englishness sounds like it’s using “Englishness” as synonymous with “being a member of the English nation”, i.e. the criteria that we consider to entitle someone to say “I am English”. Race obviously shouldn’t be a factor in this.

The idea that racial diversity is important to Englishness sounds like it’s using “Englishness” as synonymous with “English values/culture”. It’s certainly not using “Englishness” in the first definition, or I’d be vetoed as an English person as I’m not racially diverse. Racial diversity IS an important part of our culture, by then again so is racism.

So what this comes down to is that your two statements are answers to “different questions* (based on what someone interprets “Englishness” to mean), not different answers to the same question.

22. Abdul Abulbul Emir

Mrs A says

To be granted Indian citizenship Abdul one must be ethnically Indian.

Did you know that ?

I say silence woman.

Do not let the bag out of the cat.

Peace

[Chaise, this was written before I saw your @21]

Maybe I could say something about it anyway.

It’s hard to see how modern liberalism could allow for an essential English identity. Instead, anyone who wants to become English should be allowed to become English. Anything else would be exclusive and particularistic at best and racist at worst.

Therefore, to be English can mean whatever people want it to mean. Autonomous individuals are all equally free to make equally valid choices. This is the “traditional” reading of anti-racism: freedom as the removal of restrictions.

The obvious problem from the point of view of modern liberalism is that there could be meanings that conflict, and so we need some way of either preventing this or adjudicating between conflicts that arise.

The way this seems to work in practice is that the state encourages a particular identity or set of identities that minimise the risk of conflict. This is the “radical” reading of anti-racism: freedom as particular restrictions on social orderings that are thought to conflict with the standard of modern liberalism.

That’s all very abstract, so it might help to think of some more concrete examples.

In the first case we might say that it doesn’t matter whether you are a ethnically British, Christian housewife or an ethnically Asian, Muslim City trader, if you think of yourself as “English” then who has the right to contradict you? If anyone did it would violate the principal of equal freedom.

However, perhaps the principal of equal freedom is already being violated. How so? Well, for all sorts of complicated social and historical reasons, people can’t simply impose meanings on a flat cultural plane. Particular groups with existing ethnic ties already dominate the cultural plane and receive “unearned privilege” by virtue of their identity alone.

This suggests that a more appropriate liberal attitude to national identity would de-emphasise the identity of the dominant groups and emphasise the subordinate groups, or to emphasise a much less unimodal identity, actively working to make equal freedom more equal.

Chaise @ 21,

I’m thinking there of “identity”.

I suppose that I find it hard to see how there could exist an “Englishness” (i.e., an English identity) based around ethnic ties and kinship.

Instead it must either be completely arbitrary—in that it doesn’t mean anything in and of itself and so can be made to carry any meaning—, or it must somehow be made to reflect “English values”—meaning, of course, liberal values like diversity, inclusiveness, anti-racism and so on.

25. Chaise Guevara

@ 24 vimothy

It’s eye-of-the-beholder stuff, certainly. Although I don’t see why it would have to be liberal values. Have you seriously never heard right-wingers demanding that people fall in line with English/British values, i.e. their personal opinions? If anything I’d say it’s a rightwing trend that the left has picked up.

It doesn’t have to reflect liberal values, but liberalism is the dominant ideology of the day and it’s the standard under which English and British identity is being reformulated, so that’s where we should look if we want to understand ourselves.

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 26 vimothy

Well, maybe so. It’s nearly always empty rhetoric anyway.

What does it matter? That’s a fair question.

One reason that it matters is that humans are social animals. We live in societies and want to be able to orientate ourselves within them. If my Englishness is meaningless, then there’s nothing that links me to other English people and I have no way of relating to the community on a national level, because no community exists.

But to be English is to be a member of only one particular group. There are of course others that we are linked to through ties of dependency and obligation, starting with our immediate family and then moving outwards in a concentric fashion in terms of loyalty.

If we follow the logic of liberalism through, all of these ties are arbitrary and restrictive, are not legitimate and should therefore be broken. Then we’ll all be reduced to atomistic but totally autonomous units freely selecting from a set of consumption preferences that might share a post code but little else beyond that.

29. Chaise Guevara

@ 28 vimothy

Honestly, I think that all of this – from the OP onwards – is a down to a human tendency to overcategorise. We like having things in neat little boxes and we get into bizarre arguments when someone else labels the box slightly differently: you’re not really “English”, she’s not a proper “goth”, that film doesn’t count as “epic” etc etc. Whereas actually things have degrees of similarity and may be half in one box and half in another.

So you have *some* connections with *most* English residents via a shared culture. But you share some of that culture with foreigners, too. If you formalise a definition of “Englishness” – beyond the discrete official status of citizenship – inevitably you end up with people who are 85% English or 23% English, and so on.

Ethnic minority MPs are not as recent as many suppose.

The first ethnic Indian MP was Dadabhai Naoroji, elected as the Liberal Party MP for Finsbury 1892-95.

The second was Sir Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownagree, who served as the Conservative MP for Bethnal Green North East 1895-1906

The third was Shapurji Saklatvala, a joint Communist/Labour candidate who served as MP for Battersea North in 1922 – 1923 and 1924 – 1929.

Famously, Daniel Defoe’s long satyrical poem The True-Born Englishman (1703) ridiculed the idea of ethnic Englishness:

A true-born Englishman’s a contradiction,
In speech an irony, in fact a fiction
http://www.luminarium.org/editions/trueborn.htm

Defoe is widely credited with being the first novelist writing in the English language. He wrote an essay on the Education of Women (1719):

“I HAVE often thought of it as one of the most barbarous customs in the world, considering us as a civilized and a Christian country, that we deny the advantages of learning to women. We reproach the sex every day with folly and impertinence; while I am confident, had they the advantages of education equal to us, they would be guilty of less than ourselves. . . “

“To be granted Indian citizenship Abdul one must be ethnically Indian.”

I know I’m feeding the troll, but in the interests of accuracy for anyone reading the thread now or in future, it’s worth pointing out this is a complete lie. Any foreigner (of any ethnicity) who’s been legally resident in India for 12 years is eligible for citizenship, as is any spouse (of any ethnicity) of an Indian citizen once they’ve been legally resident in India for seven years.

All of which reminds me of Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling

Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them black-faced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

From: Gunga Din, by Rudyard Kipling
http://www.bartleby.com/103/48.html

33. MarkAustin

@17. Danny

“Englishness is a funny race of people and ever involving, to be truelly british now you must be able to drape a st georges flag on your back while urinating on WW2 memorial and do a nazi salute all at the same time! and for the true nationalist this must be done while drunk!”

As a Scot, I sometimes despair of English Liberal/Left values, and this post just about categorises it. The definition of Patriotism/English identity as essentially racist and regressive just plays into the hands of the extremists. The OP notes these attitudes are far less prevelant in Wales and Scotland. This is because these two countries have not allowed the BNP/ELD etc. etc. to colonise their nationalism, as they have been allowed to do in England. If you do not accept and celebrate national identity, you cede that ground to your enemies, and, by extension, imply that any expression of or belief in such values automatically makes the holder your opponent: thus pushing them towards these parties.

34. margin4error

A&E

I didn’t mean to suggest that englishness is mysterious – sorry. I just meant that it was probably in quotation marks to denote that the study is treating englishness as an unknown quantity since it was englishness, not race or age, that it was studying.

And the purpose is presumably to generate publicity on St Gerge’s Day. I’m not sure it really serves any wider purpose than that.

For reasons of promotional convenience, it tends to get overlooked that the political historic roots of fascism were leftist, not rightist.

The proper title of the Nazis was: the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). Mussolini was a member of the Italian Socialist Party and editor of the party’s newspaper before he was expelled for extremism and went on to found the fascists. Hitler credited Mussolini with founding fascism. Sir Oswald Mosley was a cabinet minister in Ramsay Macdonald’s Labour government of 1929-31 before he resigned in 1930 saying the government was doing too little to tackle unemployment. Mosley went on to found the British Union of Fascists in 1932.

36. Abdul Abulbul Emir

Any foreigner (of any ethnicity) who’s been legally resident in India for 12 years is eligible for citizenship, as is any spouse (of any ethnicity) of an Indian citizen once they’ve been legally resident in India for seven years.

Mrs A is refering to the granting of Indian Citizenship at Birth.

Silly Billy.

Peace

37. Abdul Abulbul Emir

Mrs A adds

Some countries which formerly operated jus soli have moved to abolish it entirely, only conferring citizenship on children born in the country if one of the parents is a citizen of that country. India did this on 3 December 2004, in reaction to illegal immigration from its neighbour Bangladesh, though jus soli was progressively weakened since 1987.

Mrs A acknowledges that although the citizenship of say the father is not necessarily the same as ethnicity, in the context of India with its vast population and the tiny (by contrast) quantities of non ethnic Indians who may have qualified for citizenship one might as well say that ethnicity is a necessity to claim such cuitizenship at birth.

Mrs A approves of India’s sensible policy.

Peace

Danny @16

Race is only important to white europeans ..

What a completely stupid thing to say. Tell that to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown – who has described the attitudes of Ugandan Asians towards black Africans back when they still lived there.
The idea of an Asian dating an African was just appalling to the Asian communities.

As for being English today – I’d say it’s more a state of being.
If you think of yourself as English, you probably are.
Race doesn’t come into it – even if not everyone agrees with your definition.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Christina Hebert

    Who says race is important to 'being English'? Mostly older people, finds report http://t.co/BcJkPTtg

  2. BevR

    Who says race is important to 'being English'? Mostly older people, finds report http://t.co/BcJkPTtg

  3. Race Equality First

    Who says race is important to 'being English'? Mostly older people, finds report http://t.co/BcJkPTtg

  4. Dr Wanda Wyporska

    Who says race is important to 'being English'? Mostly older people, finds report http://t.co/BcJkPTtg

  5. Ben Mitchell

    How important is race to ‘Englishness’? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/39byQgkk via @libcon

  6. Foxy52

    Who says race is important to 'being English'? Mostly older people, finds report http://t.co/BcJkPTtg

  7. Andrew Ducker

    Only 22% of British people are horrifically racist, 25% just a bit racist when it comes to definition of "English" http://t.co/lXZ1t5Kr

  8. Sam Kington

    Only 22% of British people are horrifically racist, 25% just a bit racist when it comes to definition of "English" http://t.co/lXZ1t5Kr

  9. Sepia Mutiny

    Who says race is important to 'being English'? Mostly older people, finds report http://t.co/BcJkPTtg

  10. DennisLCarney

    How important is race to ‘Englishness’? http://t.co/m00SK5Ql





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.