Britain Is And Always Was Multi-Ethnic – Get Used To It

Earlier this year, David Cameron told us that ‘state multiculturalism’ has failed. But Britain has always been multi-ethnic and we need to get used to it, argues Bryan Teixeira from Naz Project London.

As the CEO of a BME initiated and led organisation, I have been wondering about the distinction between the concepts of ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’.

Earlier this year, David Cameron told us that ‘state multiculturalism’ has not worked. He seemed to be saying that allowing separate cultures (ethnicities?) to develop in the UK has led to segregation and not built a shared British culture (ethnicity?). And for some time previous to him, many race equality campaigners, including Trevor Phillips, have been dissatisfied with a popular view of multiculturalism that focused mainly on celebrating various and at times stereotypical community festivals.

Add to this our national system of ‘ethnic coding’, and we are in a real stew about culture, ethnicity and race. I often see the current coding system as a mishmash of biological race rather than ethnic markers which we have inherited from concepts and trends during the heyday of the British Empire. For example, No London Invisible, a recent study commissioned by the Trust For London, has noted the need for a new coding category to acknowledge significant recent Latin American migration.

How to get a clear sense in all this? t seems to me that race is largely a biologically based concept; you don’t choose it. Ethnicity is about one’s chosen self-identification and social grouping: the set of values or customs one has adopted as a result of intense participation with specific cultural groups, often more likely to have regional rather than national geographic markers.

We live in an increasingly fluid and multi-ethnic world.

As Gandhi noted during the struggle for Indian self-rule from Britain, it is a fallacy to assume there was ever an equation between culture and nation: there has always been many cultures (and religions!) in India.

I think the same thing must be said for the UK (if not every nation): there is one UK, but with many cultures, many ethnicities. That’s life – get used to it! The challenge remains to find unity within this wonderful pluralism.