Ethnic minorities feel strong sense of identity with Britain, report reveals

The vast majority of people from ethnic minorities feel British even if they were not born in this country, according to a report from the National Statistics department.

Racial attacks and recent political gains by the British National Party are leading to long-established immigrants becoming increasingly determined to assert their right to be in this country, it is claimed.

The research by the department, formerly the Office of National Statistics, is the first time that ethnic minorities have been asked how they feel about their national identity, rather than about their actual origin. It revealed that both first generation immigrants and those who were British-born had a strong sense of identity with their adopted country.

While only 45 per cent of Indian people were born here, 75 per cent say their national identity is now British. Just under two thirds of black Carribbeans were born in the UK, but 80 per cent say they feel British. Three quarters of Bangladeshi people claimed a British national identity, along with 78 per cent of Pakistani and more than 80 per cent of mixed-race residents.

Chris Myant, of the Commission for Racial Equality, said: "Firstly, these figures reflect reality, where people may have a black Caribbean origin but have been born, brought up and educated in this country and do not feel anything other than British. But secondly I think it is also an act of assertion, showing racists and groups like the British National Party that people from ethnic minorities do have an innate right to be where they are and who they are."

He added: "The interesting thing is that a black Caribbean British teenager probably has far more sense of who he is and his identity, than a white English person does now ... The problem for white English people is that there isn't a clear English identity that isn't reactionary or racist."

The report comes 14 years after the former Conservative minister Norman Tebbit proposed his infamous "cricket test" for immigrants, claiming the ultimate assessment of national loyalty lay in whether people supported England's cricket team against other nations. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is planning to introduce citizenship tests for people wanting to settle in Britain.

The findings were based on the annual Labour Force Survey of 300,000 people and compiled by National Statistics (NS). Lucy Haselden, author of the report, said: "It was surprising that the figures were so high. We would expect younger people who were born here to be more likely to say they felt British, but older people also feel the same way. This is about national identity rather than the nationality on your passport, and that is interesting because we have not asked this question before."

Analysts decided to insert the question about national identity after problems with the 2001 census, which only allowed people to state their ethnic origin. A spokesman for NS said: "A lot of people from ethnic minority backgrounds wrote extra notes on the census forms saying that while they were of Pakistani, or Bangladeshi or mixed race origin, they felt that their national identity was British.

"It is interesting that as we become more multi-cultural, we want to be able to state our ethnic differences, but at the same time come together on our national identity."

Ethnic minorities make up 7.9 per cent of the British population, with nearly half living in London. Two London boroughs, Newham and Brent, now have populations where more than half the residents are from ethnic minorities.

Black Africans were the least likely to feel British, with 43 per cent saying the UK represented their national identity.

SETTLING IN A HOME FROM HOME

Dr Dhrona Sharma moved from India to Britain more than 10 years ago and has never looked back. "I am very comfortable with Britain, I feel British in many ways," said the psychiatrist, who has settled in York.

He left Delhi in 1990 after becoming disillusioned with the way some corrupt medics took kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies in return for prescribing their products.

Dr Sharma, who holds an Indian passport but will apply for British citizenship in two years when he becomes eligible, is married to an Irish woman and the father of two daughters. The 40-year-old says he feels British in many respects - emotionally, intellectually and temperamentally.

"I feel British when I am restrained in my emotions," he says. "I am no longer emotionally expressive or loud as I was when I was in India. I have become far more diplomatic in the way I express my emotions."

The key change, however, is in his professional attitude. "In India, as a doctor, I was supposed to know everything," he says. "I had to be a god. Here it is acceptable to say, 'I don't know'. I can be more human."

His home is a multicultural mix of Indian and British. The Hindu gods comfortably co-exist with Jesus in the prayer room and the family speaks both English and Hindi at home. "I may not let my children wear bra tops or clothes that sexualise young children, but our attitudes are largely British," he says.

But who will he back in a cricket match between India and England? "I don't watch cricket matches," he says diplomatically. Probed further, he laughs: "Of course, India."

Radha Venkatesan

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