While the idea of race implies something fixed and biological, ethnicity is a source of identity which lies in society and culture. Ethnicity refers to a type of social identity related to ancestry (perceived or real) and cultural differences which become active in particular social contexts.
The concept of ethnicity has a longer history than ‘race’ and is closely related to the concepts of ‘race’ and nation. Like nations, ethnic groups are ‘imagined communities’ whose existence depends on the self-identification of their members. Members of ethnic groups may see themselves as culturally distinct from other groups, and are seen, in turn, as different. In this sense, ethnic groups always co-exist with other ethnic groups.
Several characteristics may serve to distinguish ethnic groups, but most usual are language, a sense of shared history or ancestry, religion and styles of dress.
Ethnicity is learned, there is nothing innate about it, it has to be actively passed down through the generations by the process of socialisation. It follows that for some people, ethnicity is a very important source of identity, for others it means nothing at all, and for some it only becomes important at certain points in their lives – maybe when they get married or during religious festivals, or maybe during a period of conflict in a country.
Problems with the concept of ethnicity
Majority ethnic groups are still ‘ethnic groups’. However, there is often a tendency to label the majority ethnic group, e.g. the ‘white-British’ group as non-ethnic, and all other minority ethnic groups as ‘ethnic minorities’. This results in the majority group regarding themselves as ‘the norm’ from which all other minority ethnic groups diverge.
There is also a tendency to oversimplify the concept of ethnicity – a good example of this is when job application forms ask for your ethnic identity (ironically to track equality of opportunity) and offer a limited range of categories such as Asian, African, Caribbean, White and so on, which fails to recognize that there are a number of different ethnic identities within each of these broader (misleading?) categories.
In December 2016 Dame Louise Carey published a study into social integration and found that ‘high levels of social and economic isolation in some places, and cultural and religious practices in communities…. run contrary to British values and sometimes our laws’. Casey also found that, by faith, the Muslim population has the highest number and proportion of people aged 16 and over who cannot speak English.
Safraz spends some time with Imran, who runs a general store in Goldwick, part of Oldham that has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the country. He finds that every single on of the customers in Imran’s store is Asian, and Imran himself says that ”we are not mixed in – we don’t integrate. We don’t do it and it’s wrong’, and he also says that “if a white person were to walk down the street in the local area, I swear nine out of ten people would crane their neck to at them.”
The Muslim community in Goldwick has its origins in Pakistan and Bangladesh and some of the outdated attitudes and traditions from over there have been imported into this country – some women are expected to walk yards behind their husbands and some men only take their wive’s out twice a year, on their birthdays and anniversaries.
Many members of the Pakistani community actually view Pakistan as ‘their country’, because that’s where their parents came from, a sense of identity reinforced by visits back to Pakistan, which is often the only other country in the world they’ve been to besides Britain.
The Fatima Women’s Association is about a four minute walk from Imran’s store where Manzoor meets with a dozen Pakistani and Bangladeshi women who are learning English. They are among 100 such women who attend thrice weekly English language lessons funded by BBC children in need.
The problem with this initiative is that some of the women interviewed only want to learn English so that they don’t have to use an interpreter when, for example they go to the doctor, they don’t actually want their children to fully integrate with British society because there is deep apprehension, bordering on fear, of what English culture is and how it may damage their families – they think English culture is drinking, partying, boyfriends, sex and tolerating things that are not allowed in Islam.
Not one of the women has a white friend and they limit their children’s freedom in similar ways, encouraging them to stick to Asian friends only so that they do not lose their culture.
Reasons to Be Hopeful
While the above appears to paint a bleak picture of a high degree of ethnic segregation, there are reasons to be hopeful…
Firstly, even amongst the people Manzoor spoke to, stereotypes about white culture were being challenged, chiefly by those who worked with white people, suggesting barriers can be broken down.
Secondly, the degree of segregation found in Oldham is rare. Professor Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics and Birkbeck College, notes that 80% of the wards of Britain are 90% white, and what appears to be happening is that Asians are increasingly moving out of Asian only enclaves and moving to super-diverse areas. It appears that multicultural Hackney is more our future than segregated Goldwick.
Finally, there is the case study of Manzoor himself – who recognised a lot of Goldwick in his own upbringing, but himself ended up marrying a white woman and bringing up mixed race kids.
Initiatives to Increase Ethnic Integration
A number of things are suggested which might promote integration
Providing more opportunities for minority women, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds
Providing cross-cultural activities – such as shared cooking events.
Setting up a buddy-system for women learning English as a second language
Making schools more ethnically mixed, even establishing quotas
Doing the same through the National Citizen Service.
Manzoor concludes the article by suggesting that the key to greater integration is to build a society in which everyone feels like it is their home, which in turn will require white culture to stop blaming all Muslims when there are fundamentalist terror attacks, and Muslims need to stop retreating into victimhood when anyone suggests there may be issues within their culture which need confronting.
It would seem that the notion of ethnic minorities underachieving is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. If you look at the stats below, with the exception of Gypsy Roma children, ‘white British’ children are outperformed by the majority of ethnic minority groups, and for those groups who lag behind, the difference is small.
It’s also worth noting that for those groups who were drastically underachieving in 2008/09 compared to the national average, have seen rapid improvement in the last five years, especially black Caribbean children. If this trend continues, we could see white children at the bottom of the ethnic league tables by 2020.
What all of this means is that all of that material about teacher Racism that you have to trawl through in the text books is probably by now mostly irrelevant, except for the fact that you now have to criticise the hell out of it.
The question is now really one of why do most minority students do better.
This brief post from The Guardian is a good starting point to find the answer to this question – in which one London school teacher explains why he thinks London schools with a higher proportion of ethnic minority students tend to do better…
“It comes down to the parents’ influence. Students who’ve arrived as migrants recently are generally coming from a place where education is valued for education’s sake. Where I teach now, in a rural area, we’ve got a very homogenous set of students, all from similar backgrounds – generation after generation quite happily in a steady state where they’re not forced to improve. If you compare that with a parent and children coming over from a country where there isn’t as much opportunity, they do really have to try, and that’s a parent-led ideal that gets fed into the student. I met so many students from African and Asian countries that really wanted to learn.
“But that sort of ambition can have a positive impact on other pupils too. If there’s someone who’s a really enthusiastic learner, it’s a teacher’s job to seize on that opportunity and use it to generate an atmosphere in the classroom, and it does rub off.”
Black and Asian Muslim children are less likely to get professional jobs, despite doing better at school, according to an official government report carried out by the Social Mobility Commission.
This blog post summarizes this recent news article (December 2016) which can be used to highlight the extent of ethnic inequalities in social mobility – it obviously relates to education and ethnicity, but also research methods – showing a nice application of quantitative, positivist comparative methods.
In recent months, the low educational attainment of White British boys has gained significant attention. However, when it comes to the transition from education to employment, this group is less likely to be unemployed and to face social immobility than their female counterparts, black students and young Asian Muslims.”
White boys from poorer backgrounds perform badly throughout the education system and are the worst performers at primary and secondary school, the report said, and disadvantaged young people from white British backgrounds are the least likely to go to University.
Only one in 10 of the poorest go to university, compared to three in 10 for black Caribbean children, five in 10 for Bangladeshis and nearly seven in 10 for Chinese students on the lowest incomes.
Black children, despite starting school with the same level of maths and literacy as other ethnic groups, young black people also have the lowest outcomes in science, maths are the least likely ethnic group to achieve a good degree at university.
But after school, it is young women from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds that are particularly affected. Despite succeeding throughout education and going to university, they are less likely to find top jobs and are paid less than women from other ethnic minorities, the report concluded.
Alan Milburn, the chair of the commission said: “The British social mobility promise is that hard work will be rewarded. This research suggests that promise is being broken for too many people in our society. Britain is a long way from having a level playing field of opportunity for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background.”
The report also showed the role of parents plays a large part in performance at school, as the more they engage, the better their children do, according to the research
Two of the more specific recommendations made by the commission are
Schools should avoid setting, particularly at primary level, and government should discourage schools from doing so.
Universities should implement widening participation initiatives that are tailored to the issues faced by poor white British students and address worrying drop-out and low achievement rates among black students
The C.V. and Racism Experiment (scroll down to 2009) – alternatively – racism in society may have something to do with these differences – this experiment demonstrated how people with ‘ethnic’ sounding names are less likely to get a response from prospective employers when they send them their C.V.s
Below I summarise pp52-3 of Collins’ Sociology AQA A-Level Year 2 Student Book (Chapman, Holborn, Moore and Aiken.) This is their take on what they call ‘Paul Gilroy’s Anti Racist Theory of Crime’ – Interestingly Prof. Gilroy commented on the post saying this is a shallow, oversimplified travesty of what he wrote.
Gilroy’s Anti-Racist Theory of Crime
Gilroy describes a ‘myth of black criminality’ and attributed statistical differences in recorded criminality between ethnic groups as being due to police stereotyping and racist labelling .
Gilroy also argued that crime amongst Black British ethnic groups was a legacy of the struggle against White dominance in former colonies such as Jamaica. When early migrants came to Britain they faced discrimination and hostility, and drew upon the tradition of anticolonial struggle to develop cultures of resistance against White-dominated authorities and police forces.
While Left Realists such as Lea and Young argued that ome criminal acts such as rioting could involve protest against marginalisation, but Paul Gilroy goes much further, seeing most crime by Black ethnic groups as essentially political and as part of the general resistance to White Rule.
Evaluations of Gilroy’s Anti-Racism Theory
This theory is criticised by Lea and Young (1984) on several grounds:
– First generation immigrants were actually very law-abiding citizens and as such did not resist against the colony of Britain and were less likely to pass this anti-colonial stance to their kids.
– Most crime is against other people of the same ethnic group and so cannot be seen as resistance to racism.
– Like critical criminologists, Lea and Young criticise Gilroy for romanticising the criminals as somehow revolutionary.
– Asian crimes rates are similar or lower than whites, which would mean the police were only racist towards blacks, which is unlikely.
– Most crime is reported to police not uncovered by them so it is difficult to suggest racism within the police itself.
Given Bake Off’s significant contribution to the reproduction of class inequality, I was sceptical about how useful a spin-off cooking documentary might be, but the programme is actually less about cooking and more about illustrating the complexities of British Bangladeshi culture and identity and combating the stereotype that hijab wearing Muslim women are oppressed.
In episode one Nadiya returns to her home village (95% of British Bangladeshis come from the same region in Bangladesh) and in the process discusses numerous aspects of her identity – about the complexities of being rooted in both Britain and Bangladesh, and how she never feels 100% at home in either place; about her choice to wear the hijab and what that means to her; and about why she doesn’t want to subject her own children to an arranged marriage and traditional Bangladeshi wedding ceremony basically – you get to see a distant cousin of hers getting married, and you can understand why!
The extract below is from ‘The Week’ which gives more background on Nadiya Hussain’s life…
Nadiya Hussain’s life has changed hugely since winning bake-off. Since she won, she has met the queen, written a book and given numerous interviews and talks. In doing so, she has had to overcome her own shyness but also her family’ strict traditions.
She grew up in Luton where she went to an all girl’s school which was 85% Muslim, where she had no white friends.
Later, she won a place at King’s College London, but her parents refused to let her go. Instead, they set about finding her a husband, and at 19, she married Abdal, an IT consultant, 3 weeks after meeting him. A year later, they had their first child and she became a housewife.
Yet Abdal proved not to be the stereotypical controlling Muslim husband: he could tell that his wife was unfulfilled, and he didn’t like it. One day, he brought her the application form for Bake Off, with 11 pages of it filled in, and supported her every step of the way through the process.
Although her own arranged marriage has worked out, Nadiya insists that her children will choose their partners. More generally, she hopes her achievements will give other Muslim girls the confidence to pursue their dreams that she lacked as a teenager. ‘I wasn’t strong then. I’m a different person now’.
She does cook a few (very tasty) looking dishes in the programme too, so overall this is a top-sociological documentary – fantastic for showing how one individual maintains some aspects of her cultural traditions while rejecting others.
How does family life vary by ethnicity in the UK today?
This brief update explores the extent to which family life and attitudes to family-life vary across some of the different ethnic groups in the UK. It looks at such things as marriage, divorce, birth rates, household types, equality and household structure.
Data from the latest (2011) census shows that 86% of the UK population are classified as ‘white’, 7.5% as ‘Asian’ or ‘Asian-British’, 3.3% as’ Black’, 2.2% as ‘Mixed’ and 1% as ‘other’.
(NB – This represents a signficant increase in ethnic minorities compared to the 2001 census. In 2011, 14% of the population were non-white, compared to 9% in 2001.)
A brief history of South-Asian Family Life in the UK
Ballard (1982) noted that most South-Asian families had a much broader network of familial-relations than a typical white-British family and one individual household might be only one small part of a complex global network of kin-relations.
Ballard argued that in order to understand South-Asian family life in the UK in the 1980s, you had to look at the ideal model of family life in Asia which is Patriarchal, being based on tight control of women, collectivist (the group is more important than the individual) and obsessed with mainting family honour (primarily through not getting divorced/ committing adultury or having children outside of wedlock) because maintaining honour was crucial to your being able to do business in the wider community.
Ballard also stressed the importance of Honour and its Patriarchal nature….. The complexity of the question of the asymmetry of the sexes is nowhere better illustrated than in the concepts of honour, izzat and shame, sharm. In its narrower sense izzat is a matter of male pride. Honourable men are expected to present an image of fearlessness and independence to the outside world, and at the same time to keep close control over the female members of their families. For a woman to challenge her husband’s or her father’s authority in public shamefully punctures his honour. To sustain male izzat wives, sisters and daughters must be seen to behave with seemly modesty, secluding themselves from the world of men.
One of the key questions A-level sociology students should ask themselves is the extent to which the above research is true today, or the extent to which things have changed!
Household type by Ethnicity, UK Census 2011
According to the UK 2011 Census, we had the following variations by ethnicity:
Some of the most obvious differences of ethnic minority households (compared to white) households include:
Asian households are three times less likely to be cohabiting, and have higher rates of marriage
Asian households have half the rate of Lone Person households compared to white households.
Black and mixed households have twice the rate of lone parent households.
Black, Asian and mixed households have incredibly low levels of pensioner couple households compared to White households, and much higher rates of ‘other households’ (could be ‘multigenerational?)
A previous UK National Statistics report showed that the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person. Demonstrating the importance of marriage for the Brit-Asian communities.
Divorce today is now much more common among Asian couples
Divorce has traditionally been seen as something shameful in Asian culture, with children under pressure to stay in loveless marriages in order to uphold the family’s honour and prevent shame falling on the family.
However, for today’s third and fourth generation Asians, things are much different.. According to this article there is a soaring British Asian divorce rate now that young Asian men and especially women are better educated and increasingly going into professional careers.
Forced Marriages are more common among Asian Families
There is also a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities.
In 2018 the British authorities dealt with 1500 cases of Forced Marriage, with there being over 1000 cases a year for most of the last decade.
Nearly half of all cases involve victims being taken to or originating from Pakistan, with Bangladesh being the second most involved country.
Only 7% of Forced Marriages take place entirely in the UK, so there’s an interesting link to (negative) Globalisation and family life here.
The number of interracial relationships is increasing
The fact that interracial relationships are increasing might make it more difficult to make generalisations between ethnic groups in the future…..
Overall almost one in 10 people living in Britain is married to or living with someone from outside their own ethnic group, the analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows.
But the overall figure conceals wide variations. Only one in 25 white people have settled down with someone from outside their own racial background. By contrast 85 per cent of people from mixed-race families have themselves set up home with someone from another group.
Age is the crucial factor with those in their 20s and 30s more than twice as likely to be living with someone from another background as those over 65, reflecting a less rigid approach to identity over time.
Cecile Wright (1992) Found that teachers perceived ethnic minority children differently from white children. Asian children were seen as a problem that could be ignored, receiving the least attention and often being excluded from classroom discussion and rarely asked to answer questions. Teachers assumed their command of the English language was poor but they were highly disciplined and well motivated. African Caribbean children were expected to behave badly and received considerable attention, nearly always negative. They were seen as aggressive and disruptive. They were often singled out for criticism even in action ignored in other children.
David Gilborn (1990) Found that while vast majority of teachers tried to treat all students fairly, they tended to see African-Caribbean children as a threat when no threat was intended and reacted accordingly with measures of control. Despite the fact that teachers rejected racism their ethnocentric perceptions meant that their actions were racist in consequence. African-Caribbean children experienced more conflict in relationships with pupils, were more subjected to the schools detention system and were denied any legitimate voice of complaint.
Tony Sewell (1996)– Black Masculinities and schooling He was primarily interested in the experiences of black boys in education and he found that some black students were disciplined excessively by teachers who felt threatened by these students’ masculinity, sexuality and physical prowess because they had been socialized into racist attitudes. He also found that the boys in the study found that their culture received little or no positive recognition in the school.
2. Pupil subcultures
A culture of anti-school black masculinity – Tony Sewell (1997) observes that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school.
Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.
Mac an Ghail (1998) Young, Gifted and Black – Mac an Ghail was a teacher in two inner city colleges. He looked at three subcultures – the Asian Warriors, the African- Caribbean Rasta Heads and the Black Sisters. He used mainly participant observation both in the school and through befriending the students and socializing with them outside of the school. What he found was that the African Caribbean community experienced the world in very different ways to white people – namely because of institutional racism in the college and he argued that any anti-school attitudes were reactions against this racism. He mainly blamed the school rather than the students for this. See Stephen Moore page 172 for more details
3. The organisation of teacher learning
Banding and Streaming disadvantages the working classes and some minority groups -Gilborn and Youdell point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets and talk of how those in the lower sets get ‘written off’ because they have not hope of achieving A-Cs.
4. School can be seen as Institutionally Racist- The Hidden Curriculum
The Ethnocentric Curriculum – In education this refers to the ways in which what happens in schools can seem irrelevant to ethnic minority pupils. The curriculum is described as Ethnocentric – for example students having to study British history from the European point of view, out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.
Crozier (2004) – experiences of Racism amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils
Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils are often seen as ‘keeping to themselves’ in school, this research found that if they do so it is because they feel excluded by their white peers and marginalized by the school practices. The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – Anxieties about their safety; Racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling; Careers advisors at school believed South Asian girls were bound by tradition and it was a waste of time advising them; Not being allowed off during Ramadan; Not feeling that assemblies were relevant.
Tariq Modood (2005) says – If we look at the best universities Whites are more likely to get an offer than other identical candidates. For example, while a White student has a 75% chance of receiving an invitation to study, a Pakistani candidate, identical in every way, has only a 57% chance of an offer.
To what extent do home background and cultural factors explain ethnic differences in educational achievement?
1. Indian and Chinese families have higher levels of Parental control and expectation
Strand’s (2007)’s analysis of data from the 2004 Longitudinal Study of Young People found that Indian students are the ethnic group most likely to complete homework five evenings a week and the group where parents are most likely to say they always know where their child is when they are out. Francis and Archer (2005) – High value is placed on education by parents, coupled with a strong cultural tradition of respect for one’s elders – high educational aspiration transmits from parents to children, and students derive positive self-esteem from constructing themselves as good students.
2. African Caribbean families have a higher proportion of single parent households
The New Right argues that the high proportion of lone parents fail to ‘provide a home environment conducive to learning’. There have also been concerns about the development of ‘gangsta’ culture with the absence of positive Black male role models at home as well as in schools (Abbott, 2002)
3. The culture of anti-school black masculinity
Tony Sewell (1997) observes that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed,
4. Acting white and acting black
Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.
5. Trust in the system and Language barriers
Crozier (2004) found that Pakistani and Bangladeshi parents ‘kept their distance’ from their children’s schools because they trusted the professionals to do their jobs; they lacked confidence in use of English and there were no translators.
6. White children have lower educational aspirations than most ethnic minorities.
Professor Simon Burgess and Dr Deborah Wilson (2008) found that among Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Black African families, over 90 per cent of parents want their child to stay on at school at age 16, compared with 77 per cent of white families – which correlates with lower numbers at uni.
7. South Asian women go to university despite cultural pressures
Bagguley and Hussain (2007) found that aspirations to higher education for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were often complicated by cultural pressures. Many had to negotiate decisions around marriage and the expectations of their parents. Many Muslim students consequently studied at a local university in order to placate their parents’ concerns about morality, being in the company of men and their family honour or ‘izzat’. In contrast, Indian students currently at university appeared to have had the option of leaving home. Indian women often spoke of a natural progression into higher education that was assumed by both their parents and their schools
Evaluation of the role of cultural factors in explaining differences in achievement by ethnicity
Family background helps explain Indian performance in education because this makes up for the greater level of poverty experienced compared to whites.
Parental aspiration seems to be especially important
Cultural barriers to SE Asian women are greater than for boys
Cultural barriers for AC boys are greater than for AC girls.
Strand argues that it is relative poverty of Bangladeshi and Pakistanis that explains their underachievement at GCSE rather than cultural factors
Cultural barriers can’t explain everything as all groups except Bangladeshi women are more likely to go to university than whites.
Strand argues that even if we take into account material and cultural barriers institutional racism leads to lack of opportunity for young black students and holds them back.
Material Deprivation can prevent a child gaining a good education because parents are less able to meet the Hidden costs of education such as finding money for school trips and home resources such as computers. Material Deprivation also means a family is more likely to live in a deprived area with worse schools. Lack of money impacts negatively on family dynamics, especially parental involvement in education, and have the effect of lowering educational aspirations.
Most ethnic minority groups experience higher levels of material deprivation than the national average. According to the Labour Force Survey 2004/05 20% of White British households are in income poverty compared to 25% of Indian, 30% of Black Caribbean, 45% of Black African, 55% of Pakistani and 65% of Bangladeshi households.
42% of White British students are from homes in the top two social classes, compared to 37% of Black Caribbean, 36% of Black African, 29% of Indian, 19% of Pakistani and only 9% of Bangladeshi students.
At the other end of the scale, the proportion of students from homes where the head of the household has never worked or is long term unemployed is 3% for White British but 7% for Indian, 8% for Black Caribbean, 23% for Pakistani, 26% for Black African and 40% for Bangladeshi households.
Limitations of material deprivation explanations
Children from the majority of ethnic minority groups, especially those of Indian and Bangladeshi origin, suffer higher than average levels of poverty yet do better than average in education, suggesting that there must be other factors that explain their achievement.
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