'It is time to accept that identity in the 21st century is more fluid than it ever has been'

By Kunle Olulode, chief executive of Voice4Change England (V4CE)

Back in 1990 in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, then senior minister Norman Tebbit questioned the loyalties of Asian immigrants to the UK, using the example of cricket. Tebbit's "Cricket Test" was thus born. His provocative suggestion was clear, that the side ethnic minorities cheer for – England or their country of origin – should be a barometer of whether they are truly British..
 
The ensuing controversy over his remarks caused a storm back home, representatives of BME (black and ethnic minority) communities declared them hurtful and disgraceful. Politicians were similarly outraged.
 
Labour MP Jeff Rooker called for Tebbit to be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred. Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown condemned his remarks as ‘outrageous and damaging‘.
 
That was 23 years ago and although Tebbit may be viewed today as being deliberatively provocative and mischievous, the subtext of his analysis, gave credence to an idea that it was not racial discrimination that created barriers, but the failure of minorities to integrate into the British way of life.
 
He hit on one truth and that was the fact that the embrace of Britishness has tinged difficulties for those UK-born Asian, African and Caribbean communities across Britain. For how do you claim to be part of a nation that rejects your right to claim that identity? 
 
Today, BME voluntary organisations services cover a variety of minority communities in areas such health, social care, education, criminal justice, employment training.
 
Three years ago V4CE asked the question in a study by Sanjiv Lingayah: Does the concept of BME remain meaningful as, since the late 1990s, it could be argued there has been a growing prevalence of fluid and hybrid identities that cross traditional colour lines?
 
This may also suggest that BME and non-BME is no longer a useful way to demarcate society.
 
The answer to that question has, in part, been revealed in the latest information flowing from the 2011 census, which provides an interesting picture and a fascinating insight into how popular perceptions of nationality, culture and race are simply not as predictable as you may have thought.
 
For the first time people were asked questions about identity and multiple identities; from English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, British and other. The exercise has produced some surprising responses.
 
For BME communities the census found that a higher proportion of ethnic minorities described themselves as British as opposed to the White British population (38 per cent to 14 per cent) and that Africans (41 per cent), Caribbeans (55 per cent), Bangladeshis (72 per cent), Pakistanis (63 per cent) and Indians (58 per cent) are most likely to report only a British national identity.
 
White British groups (72 per cent) are more likely to see themselves as English rather than British.
 
Surprisingly three fifths of the population do not identify with being British; they only see themselves as English. The implications of this development are profound.
 
Manchester University points out in recent research paper Who feels British?: “This begs the question what is the purpose of putting so much emphasis on encouraging minorities and new migrants to the UK to accept ‘British’ life and British ‘values?’”
 
And one might add, what value should be placed on nationality tests and ceremonies that in no way connect with the outlook of the general population?
 
Perhaps the most stunning finding of all was in respect of religious belief. In that, in England, a higher percentage of Muslims identify themselves as British (57 per cent) than Christians (only 15 per cent), who along side Jews identified themselves as primarily English.
 
The findings fly in the face of leading policy makers and community leaders who have suggested Muslims have difficulty maintaining the identity of their faith and being British.
 
The details of what has been revealed challenges a number of lazy assumptions concerning notions of what people think of as Britishness and how they see themselves in British society.
 
The world in which we inhabit today reveals social relations are far more fluid than they have ever been.
 
British nationalism doesn’t have the offensive potency it once had and clearly settled BME communities find calling themselves British less of an issue.
 
Moreover, more importantly, many countries have been able to allow complex national identities without compromising their national or political unity.
 
Americans and Canadians, for example, linked their ethnicity firmly to a national identity, such as African American, Italian American, Greek American.
 
It therefore begs the question why not form a new type of Britishness here, and end all talk of Cricket Tests? 
 
Pic credit: Muslims attend an event in London (PA)