Sunday, 4 December 2011

ONS Missed An Opportunity To Include African British In 2011 Census

The census is the tool used by government, statutory bodies and commercial organisations interested in the demographics of the nation, or specific localities, in order to justify a whole range of policies, from political to financial. It’s not just a matter of head counts – in 1991 ethnicity options were introduced (Black Caribbean, Black African etc). However, another option was created post-census to accommodate the ‘Other Asian’ category was created from answers provided in the  ‘Black-Other and ‘Any other ethnic group’. Which shows that if the ONS (Office For National Statistics) is so minded, it can use African British, instead of the Black British terminology.

The government and statutory bodies in particular rely on data extrapolated from the census to make projections in their resource allocations. In 2010, the ONS proactively engaged with the African community to raise awareness of the census, through targeted media coverage, workshops, and they got rapper Ghetts to record a song and video called 'Invisible', which highlighted why we had to complete the 2011 census.

Click to see The Making Of The 'Invisible' video. Click to see the full 'Invisible' video.

Below is coverage on the 2007 testing of the format for the 2011 census forms culled from, with the addition of a UK ethnicity classification, which shows the Scottish census as the only one which provides an African, African Scottish and African British options - it seems the only reason a similar option is not included in the census form for England and Wales is financial.


ONS test launch excludes African British community
Mon 10 July 2006
African British is to be excluded as a category from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2007 test questions for the 2011 census. The label 'black' British used is to be used in its place.
The ONS 2007 test which will target over 100,000 respondents is said to focus on the operational aspects of the census, whilst a smaller focus group approach targeting 30 respondents will provide a more personal, detailed evaluation on issues such as ethnicity and identity.

The 2006 census test in Scotland successfully eradicated ‘colour coding’ in the ethnicity category, much of this is credited to grass roots opposition followed up by a responsible action plan following true grass roots consultation. In England the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) is vehemously opposed to the use of the word African to describe African people and uses its influence to advocate ‘blacks’ or ‘Afro-Caribbean’ (sic).

Scotland leading the way
Scottish 2011 Census has African, African Scottish and African British classifications, unlike the English and Welsh census.

Scotland is not the only nation to move towards the rejection of odious colour-racial ideology in recognition of more accurate and respectful ethnicity and cultural identifiers. England is also behind nations such as Canada’s who in 2001’s census posed a question that asked “which ethnic or cultural group(s) did this person’s ancestors belong?”. Canada government state it has been recording ‘information on… ancestral origins… since the 1901 Census to capture the changing composition of Canada’s diverse population”.

One of the problems in England seems to stem from the fact that the ONS defines ethnicity as a ‘label’ used by a group to define itself. They argue this point based on the fact that a majority of African Britons are taught to refer to themselves as ‘black’ Britons and this definition is erroneously ratified by the CRE and permeated by major media and educational institutions. The ONS is also concerned about the financial costs involved in producing a census which uses more paper for extra questions.
LIGALI Comment

As an African British organisation, Ligali is one of many representing the case for eradicating colour coding and replacing it with more accurate ethnicity classifications. During our ONS meetings with the Census Diversity Advisory Group (formally SPAG) we have raised the moral incongruity of the perpetuation of racist ideology irrespective of its widespread institutional usage. To its credit our concerns have been acknowledged with the ONS agreeing to help organise consultation events in tandem with grass roots organisations from both ‘pro’ and ‘against’ camps to discuss this specific issue. Nonetheless, the failure to use the upcoming census test as an opportunity to test the African British v ‘black’ British question reveals that whilst the ONS recognises there is a need to move forwards and challenge this intellectual impasse, it lacks the political courage to do so. The irony of this matter is that whilst the ONS seeks to be ‘inclusive’ at all costs recognising the likes of ‘Jedi’ Britons in its coding framework, it is perpetuating the socio-political exclusion of those who self define as African British.

No comments:

Post a Comment