Monday, August 08, 2005

Hyphenating Britons 

The new-found fascination with the "American model" of multiculturalism continues:
The Government is proposing to rename ethnic minority groups along US lines in an attempt to strengthen and highlight their British roots.

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.
Not everyone likes the proposal, but not for the reasons you would expect.
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."
The key, of course, is not so much what people are called or call themselves, but what they feel themselves to be. True, the names do have consequences, and an "Asian-British" is better than an "Asian" who just happens to live in Britain (and a non-hyphenated "British" is, in turn, better than "Asian-British", as Sir Iqbal notes), but we shouldn't ascribe to words the magical power of transmutation of an immigrant matter - they are only one small element in the arsenal of acculturation or assimilation, which also includes other "pushes", such as unilingualism, civic education, inculcating patriotic reflexes (the pledge of allegiance, saluting the flag), as well as "pulls", such as the attraction of the "American (or any other) Dream" and the ease of achieving it.

Yet another serious debate that was long overdue.


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