By Simon Lowe
Great Britain; land of Marmite loving, cricket playing, ale drinking white people. Of course the prior sentence is riddled with inaccurate stereotypes not merely because some Britons truly detest Marmite but because it does not give any credence to the fact that modern Britain has such a wide-ranging cultural and ethnic demographic. Our perceptions of what we believe to be distinctly British are beginning to change as British culture is continually being redefined due a variety of different factors.
British culture is not under threat as some far right folk may claim. It is evolving. There is a fluency to culture that allows it to change, to grow and to thrive to fit changing circumstances. This is not something that should invoke a hate campaign against immigrants. First of all, it’s not just immigration that effects cultural development. Technological advancement has continually influenced culture right from the industrial revolution through to the computer age. Media has become much more far-reaching, so much so that we know what is happening on the other side of the planet in a matter of minutes, adding a globalized element to British culture. Where would we be today if women still did not have the right to vote? Hard won equalities change perceptions and attitudes in a positive way and this feeds into cultural fluency. Secondly, change is not a bad thing. Who does not want a society with equal rights, access to the internet at the click of a finger or the infrastructure that makes travelling anywhere relatively easy? An ever-changing British culture is something to celebrate, something that allows us to learn more about each other, something that improves our life experiences.
A message from The British National Party’s Nick Griffin on the BNP website claims “British people have become a minority in many areas already, and within a few decades, we will become a minority across the country as a whole.” This is an impossibility. What I believe Griffin may have meant to say instead of British people was ‘White British’ as if you are born here or gain citizenship then you are British. The proportion of people that identify themselves as ‘White British’ is falling. In the 2011 census 80.5% of people identified themselves as ‘White British’. This figure fell from 87.5% in 2001.
Oxford professor David Coleman has claimed that if current trends continue the current majority ethnic group – ‘White British’ – will become a minority before the year 2070. The White British group has already become a minority in London with under 45% of people in the capital identifying themselves a member of that ethnic group in 2011. Of course some bigoted groups will try to use this seemingly certain eventuality to fuel their hate campaigns. It is important to understand the benefits of increased diversity in the UK and to highlight them. Race should not be an important element of what it means to be British.
Can we make comparisons with other countries in which a majority ethnic group has become a minority? This is beginning to happen in the United States. The demographic here has changed significantly and the white majority that had been established by colonial Great Britain will become a minority nationwide even as soon as 2043. Several cities and counties have already become majority-minorities and the declining fertility rates among the white population is only accelerating this transition.
These people are white Americans but they all have heritage from a diverse range of cultures around the world. White Americans could have British, Irish or Italian heritage etc. They may be Jewish, Christian, Mormon or belong to another religious denomination. In this respect isn’t America already a country of minorities? The majority share one characteristic, the colour of their skin, but they all come from distinctly different cultural backgrounds. Despite their different backgrounds these people have one thing in common – they are Americans. It is this cultural diversity that has made the United States the country it is today. This is just the same as in Britain. Historically Britain has experienced much migration from the arrival of already diverse Roman armies to the movement of the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century and later the Viking invasions. As a result Britons too have a rich and diverse genetic heritage.
If we accept the claim that the ‘White British’ ethnic group will become a minority by 2070 what does this mean for the future of Britain? The Marmite and ale may still be on show but will we be less likely to make the association of white skin with being British?
Inevitably, future generations will see an increase in the number of mixed race people. We then arrive at a point where race becomes increasingly arbitrary and subjective. If the white majority (already a diverse mix of ethnicities themselves) will have descendants that are a mix of white and black, white and Asian, white and mixed race etc. then must they check 6+ racial categories on a census form to indicate their genetic make-up? Will anyone even care about race? Historical movements of people has meant that each and every person’s DNA tells a story of a diverse genetic heritage. No person can only have ‘British’ blood. Most people will have a bloodline that extends to corners of the globe far away from the part of the world that they call home. We are all mixed race to a degree already. The census figures are merely a self-declaration of a perceived racial identity.
If as claimed white people become a minority in Britain will they suffer discrimination? The other thing to consider are the new inequalities that may be established when the white majority slowly fades in numbers. Historical inequalities related to race – a product of colonialism may eventually cease to exist but the truth is that throughout history there has always been a dominant ruling class whether they be white, capitalists, men or otherwise. If we arrive at a point in which skin colour becomes insignificant where will the concentration of power lie?
A more optimistic view to take on the future of Britain is that the decline in the proportion of ‘White British’ people in the population may lead to a greater level of community cohesion and less hostility towards minorities. The barriers created by negative stereotypes around race should begin to disappear due to a lack of clarity present in a person’s ethnic make-up down through recent generations.
The future of racial prejudice in the UK is anyone’s guess but one thing appears to be certain, the racial demographic of Great Britain is changing and will continue to change to the point where those identifying themselves as ‘White British’ could be a minority. This is not going to happen overnight, and it should not matter. The ‘White British’ already have a diverse bloodline they just may not be aware of it.