In the media
Britain to rebrand ethnic minorities
By Richard Ford and Helen Rumbelow
August 08, 2005
THE Government is proposing to rename ethnic minority groups along
US lines in an attempt to strengthen and highlight their British
Minorities could be described as, for example "Asian-British"
rather than simply as "Asian" under proposals being considered
by Hazel Blears, the Home Office Minister.
The plan to adopt the American practice of identifying ethnic heritage
will be controversial with some British ethnic minorities likely
to claim that it is racist. The idea was condemned as fatuous and
retrograde by critics last night.
Ms Blears's idea, outlined in an interview with The Times, would
introduce "double-barrelled" nationality as a way of giving
people pride in both their ethnic background and their Britishness.
"In America they do seem to have this idea that you are Italian-American,
or Irish-American," she said. "We don't do that here."
It is unclear whether Irish, Scottish or Welsh people would be
part of the exercise, which will be put to Muslim leaders in the
next few weeks.
Ms Blears, head of a new government commission on how better to
integrate minorities, said that she would ask whether they would
rather be termed "British-Asian", or "Indian-British"
rather than "Muslim" or "Asian".
"I am going to talk to people and find out, how does that
feel?" she said. "It is about your identity, and I think
it's really important."
Ms Blears's proposal is an indication that the Government is taking
seriously claims that some second-generation Asians are finding
it difficult to identify with either Britain or the country of their
"If you want a society that is really welded together, there
are certain things that unite us because we are British," she
said. "But actually, for example, I'm Northern, and you can
be a bit different too."
At the time of the 1991 census many West Indian parents objected
to their children being classified by geographical origins outside
Britain when they had been born in the country. By 2001, a classification
of "Black British" was introduced.
Politicians and Muslim leaders dismissed the proposal last night
as a step backwards. Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, head of the Muslim
Parliament, gave warning that identifying people by their ethnic
background would create racial ghettoes.
He said: "Nobody cares for labels. We have to create a stake-holding
society and an inclusive society. Unless you feel you have a stake
in the society, you will never be proud of it.
"What's important is that the form of multiculturalism that
we have pursued hasn't worked, so we have to try to think of new
ways. Some young people say to me 'We have British passports but
are treated as Pakis'. Unless we begin to respect each others' cultures,
there may be problems."
Sir Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the Muslim Council of
Britain, dismissed the idea as a retrograde step that looked at
people in terms of colour. "What of the second generations?
Why should they be defined as other than 'British'?" he asked.
"These forms of identity based on ethnic background have been
tried in the past and have failed."
Sir Iqbal pointed out that more than half the Muslim population
in Britain is under 35 and that the vast majority were born in the
Ms Blears was backed by the Commission for Racial Equality, but
it gave warning of pitfalls ahead. A spokesman said: "She's
hit the nail on the head when she says it's about how people feel
and refer to themselves. But one person might be happy being classified
as one thing and someone of the same race or religion might not."
Shahid Malik, a Muslim Labour MP, said that Ms Blears was right
in recognising the issue, but felt that she had hit on the wrong
Greg Mulholland, the Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West,
where the July 7 suicide bombers had their bomb factory, dismissed
the idea. "It's not remotely helpful," he said. "I
think it's another gimmick. I'm afraid we need some rather more
intelligent and far-reaching solutions."
Edward Garnier, the shadow home affairs spokesman, said: "This
is a fatuous idea. We need rather more serious thinking and rather
less off the cuff talking from ministers"
"I've got a growing number of Asian British people in my constituency.
They think of themselves as British. They don't need a government
minister to tell them how to describe themselves."
Blears interview in full