3.4 Describing your ethnicity
The list of ‘ethnic’ groups below is taken from the UK census of 2001. Read through the list and then decide which term best describes you.
Any other White background
Black Caribbean/West Indian
Any other Black background
Any other Asian background
White and Black Caribbean
White and Black African
White and Asian
Any other Mixed background
Here are our responses to this activity.
Jenny: I define myself as ‘African–Caribbean’ – but this only has meaning in the UK. I would not necessarily use the same terminology in the Caribbean. What might be important in the Caribbean is that someone of Caribbean parentage has been born in the UK, hence someone might use nationality in this context, i.e. ‘British’ or ‘Black British’.
Carol: When I have to agree to a category like these, I define myself as ‘White British’, but I don’t like to think of myself in this way because I see nationalistic identities as potentially dangerous. I prefer to call myself ‘Irish’, because my father was from Northern Ireland – although this qualifies him as British too!
Martin: I would have to say ‘White British’, although I am unhappy about this for a number of reasons. Firstly, it seems to gloss over the parts of my ‘ethnic’ identity that are important to me, such as my Englishness, my Scottish ancestry, and my working-class London background. Secondly, both ‘White’ and ‘British’ are associated with histories of oppression – ‘British’, for me, has imperial connotations – whereas I am committed to equality.
How did you get on with this activity? Like us, but perhaps in different ways, you may have thought the census categories were too limited and rigid and did not match the way in which you perceive your ethnic identity. However, we hope that doing this activity has helped to illustrate some important points about the nature – and limitations – of the idea of ethnicity, some of which are explored below.