Identity refers to the way in which we see ourselves-or the sense of ‘self’ which develops throughout life. A person’s identity reflects the culture in which they live in. Due to the racism that ethnic minorities encounter many black ethnic minorities in Britain experience a sense of exclusion from the identity of being ‘British’. In the following discussion the effects of institutional and cultural racism will be examined to show they may serve to negatively categorise minority identities.
Racism is the idea that another person or group and their way of life is inferior on the grounds of race or ethnicity, and that this allows them to rule and dominate others. Ethnic minorities in Britain don’t only face one type of racism they face both institutional and cultural racism. Institutional racism is racism that is deeply embedded in institutions, for example housing, employment, education and the legal system.
For much of the period since the beginning of post-war migration, housing and employment were perhaps the most important problem area s in the lives of new immigrants, and were the subject of constant comments by officials, the media and the government who were concerned to dismiss public fears about immigrants taking the jobs that were available and making demands on limited housing. Migrants have always been drawn into the largest town of their intended country. These areas are often best known and often the best chances of work.
Usually migrants head for towns and cities were they already have relatives or some person who they might know. This leads to clusters of migrant occupation from particular countries or locations. Migrants tend to fill up the poorer accommodations in a town or an area, not because they want to but because of the lack of power that they posses when hey first move to Britain. Black Immigrants are usually concentrates in the inner city area, or ‘the zone of transition’, just outside the central business zone. Their presence here is disproportionate and their living conditions are overcrowded.
In 1961 48% of immigrant households were in shared accommodation compared with 6% for white and two fifths of theses afro Caribbean were technically overcrowded. This same problem was faced by the 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants who are British born. Although it is illegal , black applicants for rented properties tend to face racial discrimination and are now more then often turned down for the property when the land lord is white, where as if a white person applies for the same accommodation they will most likely be accepted. A study in 1974 conducted test applicants for rented property using black and white applicants.
The black applicants were met with racial discrimination in over 25% of cases. Also in the late 1980’s the BBC carried out a survey on racism in Bristol using hidden cameras and microphones. They found out that there was a ‘coloured tax’ imposed on the black researchers-the blacks were made to pay more for the accommodations then the whites. Also housing officers tend to have unfavourable stereotypes of Bengalis and social security tenants which resulted in these groups being allocated to ‘sink’ or ‘problem’ housing estates, usually the oldest most dilapidated and most inferior estates.
Ethnic minorities in Britain also face cultural racism. This is a set of beliefs and ideas which provide people with a false and mistaken picture of a so called ‘racial group’ reinforcing stereotypes. Simply because of the colour or their skin a person may be seen as ‘ignorant’, ‘primitive’, and ‘inferior’. Researchers have identified cultural racism in many areas of British life, popular culture and the media. The media includes Television, radio and the newspaper, the modern media can reach large or ‘mass’ audiences.
Many people associate young black men with criminality and being criminals. This is perhaps because of the representation of ethnic minorities in the media. Ethnic minorities tend to be ignored and discluded by the media or when they are included they are portrayed in distorted ways that owe more to their stereotypes then to the reality of ethnic minorities. Old films and comic adventure stories used to portray black people as savages, servants, drug addicts and dealer, pimps or as dancers etc.
Thankfully these images have disappeared from modern television and films. However the media still tends to associate black people with physical rather then intellectual activities and to view them in stereotypical ways. Black people are portrayed in the media in several different negative ways. These are some of them: As Criminals. In1991 Van Dijak conducted a content analysis of tens and thousands of news items across the world over several decades. He found that black crime and violence are one of the most frequent issues in ethnic coverage in newspapers.
Ethnic minorities, particularly Afro-Caribbean’s, tend to be portrayed, especially in the tabloid press, e. g. The sun, Mail, Express etc, as criminals or members of organised criminal gangs. Also he found that the word ‘black’ is often used as a prefix if an offender is a member of an ethnic minority e. g. ‘black youth’. The word ‘white’ is hardly ever used in the same way. The fact of the matter is that a black person is 36 times more likely to be the victim of a violent attack then a white person. Ethnic minorities are also seen as a threat to Britain and the white population.
Tabloid papers are prone to stress about the numbers of ethnic minorities in Britain and how Britain Is becoming ‘swamped’ with blacks. Also it it suggested because of the number of ethnic minorities in Britain they might have an impact on the supply of housing, jobs and other facilities. As well as this in the early days of immigration ethnic minorities were presented by the media as welfare scroungers, and that they came to Britain to take advantage of a wealthier country then their own. Ethnic minorities are also seen as a threat to the British way of life.
Both newspapers and the television portray ethnic minorities as being dependent on the west for help time and time again. This is known as a ‘begging Bowl image’. African and Asian children are often represented as being constant victims of charity. Stories tend to focus on the ‘coup-war-famine-starvation syndrome’. This makes the west believe that the problems of developing countries are due to stupidity, too many babies, tribal conflict, laziness, corruption and unstable political regimes. Because the governments of these countries are unable to solve these problems it is suggested that they are inadequate.
The idea of such poverty in developing countries may be due to their exploitation by the west is often ignored and neglected. Ethnic minorities are also referred to as abnormal, e. g. they run stories suggesting Asians force their daughters into arranged marriages, this is actually a very rare occurrence and the Asian community are strongly against this. Finally as unimportant- some of the media implies that white people are somehow more important than the lives of blacks. News items of disasters in other countries are often restricted to a few lines, especially if the occupants are mainly black.
The misfortune of one British person tends to be prioritised over the sufferings of thousands of foreigners. In addition to this Black people are found to be under-represented by the media. When they do appear, the range of roles played by blacks is very limited. Black people are rarely shown as ordinary citizens who just happen to be black. Their attitudes and behaviour are usually determined by their ethnic identity meaning they play black roles e. g. the doctor, the corner shop owner, the criminal etc.
Coronation street which has been on the television for 40 years has only ever has one leading black character, even though it is set in the multicultural area of Manchester. However EastEnders have in fact included many black characters as ordinary members of the community. It seems that, for every positive observation, there is a negative equivalent. Ethnic minorities are not only victims of institutional and cultural racism but they are also victims of violence and racial harassment. Racial attacks are attacks on people because they are seen to be members of a racial group.
They form part of a broader category of racial incidents which covers crimes against property, e. g. vandalising houses, graffiti, and crimes against the person including murder, assaults and threats where the motive is racial. Also name calling can be racial attacks. The British crime survey is a national survey based on a reprosentive sample of the population. It asks people whether they have been the victim of particular crimes during the previous year. It is estimated that in 1992 130 000 crimes involving some racial elements were committed.
This includes 32 250 racially motivated assaults. A large majority of the victims were from ethnic minority groups. Of the 130 000 estimated crimes fewer then 8 000 were reported to the police, However the level of reporting is increasing from 28 in 1988 to 577 in 1993 to the Greater Manchester Police, and the level reported to the press is also increasing. Theses racial incidents tend not to be reported to the police for a number of reasons. The victims are usually scared to report in case the attackers find out and attack again.
Also when the incidents are reported the police don’t tend to take them as seriously as they should so nothing much is done about them, and even if something is done its very hard to catch them as they usually attack in groups. As well as this the majority of the police force is white, and the police force is full of institutional racism putting ethnic minorities off reporting. Clearly, it is understandable why many black ethnic minorities feel uncomfortable with a ‘British Identity’ because the majority of white people do not see them as British.