Identity, Young People And Integration
The Commission For Racial Equality
When the CRE held a seminar earlier this year about young people, identity and integration it didn't take long for the discussion to turn to the mixed-race experience.
On 21 March 2007, the CRE - in partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) - hosted a seminar on identity, young people and integration.
For several years, there has been a growing discussion of concepts relating to public policy and identity by researchers, politicians, think tanks and social commentators.
At the same time, the CRE's primary goal has been to create an integrated society, which we define as being based on three inter-related principles: equality for all sections of society; interaction between all sections of society; and participation by all sections of society.
The aim of the seminar was to bring together researchers and policy makers to discuss current issues relating to identity and integration and consider how an understanding of identity might help address policy problems relating to equality, interaction and participation.
An underlying question for the seminar was whether there really is a role for identity in thinking about integration. The answer was a cautious yes. Building shared identifications with places and society is one way of creating cultural changes that can bring about integration and there are three main advantages of 'using' identity in this way:
However it is still a cautious yes since fostering shared identity is not an alternative to more concrete approaches like legislation or tackling inequality.
The role of the state in identity formation is therefore difficult and problematic. Although the state cannot impose identities on people, it does have a role to play in fostering the conditions for a shared identity to develop. There are concerns then about the Government's current focus on Britishness. Many argue that this is often based on a mythical idea, focused on the past, and which suggests that people who are not British do not have similar values.
Key to fostering a shared identity is the ideal of 'democratic citizenship'. Not only can this act as unifying value in itself, it also provides the conditions to support diversity and allow different ideas to be contested.
Recent reports in the media that mixed-race children are 'muddling through' and suffering 'identity stripping' are agreed to be unhelpful and unfounded. People often assume that being of mixed heritage is problematic in itself rather than looking at inadequate policies or racism for explanations. However, current research does highlight a series of tensions - mixed-race identities are growing but, at the same time, are under threat as they are characterised as both a cause of celebration and a cause for concern. In the education context for example, teachers perceptions of mixed-race pupils has been found to be very different to those of the parents and the pupils themselves which can lead to problems in how they are treated.
Much of the discussion focused on identity choices and the key role that physical appearance plays in how others perceive mixed-race individuals. The mixed-race experience cannot be understood in isolation either but need to be thought about in the context of race, racism and racialisation. For example, a Jamaican and Ghanaian family are likely to see themselves as mixed whilst others may not at first.
Although individuals have very little control over other people's perception, whether you are seen as White or not-White was thought to be more significant than the fact of being of mixed heritage, per se. That said, a mixed White individual, for example who is visibly White may avoid everyday racism but may have more issues around balancing identities than a mixed White/ Black individual.
Beyond race, things like age, gender, class and where someone lived were also thought to be important factors in understanding mixed-race experiences.
For example middle class mixed-race individuals may not feel economically disadvantaged but still may encounter racism as a visible minority. Also differences between White/ Asian and White/ Black individuals may be down to class differences rather than ethnicity. It is therefore important to consider the diversity of experiences found amongst the mixed-race population, although it is almost impossible to understand which identities are in play at any one time.
1 Keep back
2 Look at 'both sides' of identity
3 Consider the diversity of groups
4 Look at the whole picture