‘Any other’ mixed ethnicity: reflections on census 2021
It was a ‘here we go again’ feeling. How to categorise my children in the 2021 census? How have the ethnic boundaries been set (Wimmer, 2013)?
They have a father with dual nationality (Turkish, British), who identifies as Turkish in terms of national identity and a white British mother. Mixed cultural influences through intermarriage with ‘invisible’ minorities (Enneli et al., 2012), such as those from a Turkish migration background, are still not fully captured in the 2021 census. With ‘other’ or ‘any other’ seemingly the closest options with which to label my children’s ethnicity. Unfortunately, these are long-standing issues. ‘Turks do not occupy a clear position in the white/non-white divide on which current understanding of ‘ethnic minorities’ is based. In the 1991 census,
Turks, coming from the outer-edge of Europe, identified themselves as ‘white’. Yet, Turkey is widely perceived in Britain to be a Third World, non-white country and Turks experience racial discrimination’ (Enneli et al., 2005, p.ix).
The 2021 census has certainly allowed for the capture of a wider range of ethnic group identities, but still where do my children fit? The possibilities are: ‘White. Includes… any other white background’ but that does not encapsulate their mixed ethnicity, so ‘Mixed or multiple ethnic groups’ seems more appropriate, however, it reduces them to ‘any other mixed or multiple background’. Hence, it unsurprising that there are difficulties obtaining data on those from a Turkish migration background and their descendants and recognising the heterogeneity of the ‘Turkish speaking community’ in the UK (Sirkeci, 2017). Census issues around identifying the ‘mixed white’ category, especially those of a Turkish parent and a white British parent, have been previously raised. Bradford (2006) claims this intermarriage group were probably mostly represented in the ‘Other mixed group’ in the 2001 census. Why though in 2021 are my children still in an ‘any other’ category?
Other census 2021 frustrations concern the inability to fully capture bilingual experiences. The census question around main language defined as ‘the language you use most naturally’ does not enable more than one language to be selected thus devaluing the role context plays in language use. For those who are bilingual, this will depend on who they are communicating with and the purpose of communication (Okita, 2002). There is no recognition with this question of the impact of code-switching on interethnic identity (Hall and Nilep, 2015); when bilingual speakers alternate between languages within a single communication act. There is an assumption that one language is more ‘natural’ than others, but that does not represent the lived linguistic experiences of many who are bilingual, where more than one language can be used ‘naturally’ in different contexts.
Admittedly, the 2021 census has taken positive steps through enabling more individual responses around national identity and ethnicity. However, it needs to go further through better recognition of bilingualism and allowing for more appropriate ethnic categorisation of those from mixed (white) ethnicities so they are not labelled ‘any other’ as some kind of ‘add on’ ethnicity.
Bradford, B. (2006) Who are the ‘Mixed’ Ethnic Group? London: Office for National Statistics.
Enneli, P., Modood, T. and Bradley, H. (2005) Young Turks and Kurds. A set of ‘invisible’ disadvantaged groups [Online]. York: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available from:< https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/young-turks-and-kurds-set-invisible-disadvantaged-groups> [Accessed 3 March 2021].
Hall, J. and Nilep, C. (2015) Code-Switching, Identity, and Globalization. In: Tannen, D., Hamilton, H.E. and Schiffrin, D. eds. The Handbook of Discourse Analysis 2nd ed. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, pp. 597-619.
Okita, T. (2002) Invisible Work: Bilingualism, language choice and childrearing in intermarried families. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Sirkeci, I. (2017) Migration from Turkey to the UK. International Migration Institute, 16 May [Online] Available from:< https://www.migrationinstitute.org/blog/migration-from-turkey-to-the-uk> [Accessed 24 March 2021].
Wimmer. A. (2013) Ethnic Boundary Making. Institutions, Power, Networks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wendy is Course Leader for the International Foundation Year and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She has taught English in Turkey, Japan, Ecuador and the UK in many different contexts including Further and Higher Education.