Tuesday, 1 March 2011

An Unclear Census

Peter Ustinov (the actor) made fun of the US visa questionnaires which needed completion before he could enter the country. When the official asked the question about the colour of his skin, he  he answered: 'Pink'. Needless to say, he did not get his visa!

Now the new census in Jersey for 2011 will have a question (as most have since 2001) on the individual's "cultural and ethnic background". (1). Quite what this means is almost as problematic as the question asked of Mr. Ustinov:

How to answer: Choose one section from A to D and then tick one box only which best describes your ethnic group or background. If you tick any of the 'Other' boxes please also write in the ethnic group. If you are writing in an ethnic group and there is not enough space, please write in as much as you can. If you are unsure of your ethnic group, you should select the option that you think is most appropriate. 

Why this question is asked: The information provides a basis for analysing patterns in long-term migration and for estimating the numbers and circumstances of immigrant communities who may have particular needs. It also helps identify second and third generation families who may be born in Jersey but have a different ethnic background.  This information is used to support resource allocation or provide special services.

Although one has to ask: what resource allocation and special services are required for third generation families with a different ethnic background, who almost certainly regard Jersey as their home? As far as help goes, the question about whether individuals have English as a first or second language, or not at all, is far more helpful in supporting special services and resources.

Can I describe my ethnic group as something other than the tick box categories listed? Yes. If you feel that none of the specific response options is appropriate, there is an 'other' option within each of the main ethnic groupings which you can select and then enter your ethnic group in the space provided. This ensures that people can record their ethnic group in whatever way they wish.

My ethnic group is not listed. What should I do? Please use the response options to help guide you but if you feel that the tick boxes provided are too broad or do not allow you to identify your ethnic group please select the 'Other' option under the most appropriate section (A, B, C,  or D) and enter your ethnic group. (2)

But what is an "ethnic group"? The States section on "International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination"   gives a breakdown from the last census:

Jersey 44,589 51.1%
British 30,317 34.8%
Portuguese / Madeiran 5,548 %6.4
Irish 2,284 2.6%
French 1,522 1.7%
Other white background 1,980 2.3%
Black African 151 0.2%
Black Caribbean 33 < 0.1%
Other black background 71 0.1%
Chinese 145 0.2%
Indian 120 0.1%
Bangladeshi 31 <  0.1%
Pakistani 21 < 0.1%
Other Asian background 8< 0.1%
Other / mixed 366 0.4%

Approximately half (51%) of the resident population in 2001 considered themselves to have a Jersey cultural background. More than a third (37%) considered themselves British, whilst 6% of the population thought of themselves as Portuguese or Madeiran. (3)

This is a complete nonsense, mixing racial classifications with cultural identities. So that, for instance, you have "other white background". Does that mean that the people who call themselves "Jersey" or "British", for example, must be Caucasian? Someone could quite happily describe themselves as Indian - Spike Milligan, for example, who was born and spent his early years in India - yet also be "other white background". Equally, someone could have migrated to Jersey from Africa, and consider themselves Jersey rather than "other black background".

I know two people, one from England who has married a lady from Portugal and they have two children. Another is of an old Jersey family, and has married a Polish lady, and they have children. Where do they fit into this peculiar classification? Because it is how people think of themselves - note the words "considered themselves..." and "thought of themselves...", it is wholly unclear what the statistics reveal apart from the conceptions that people have of their own identity. As a piece of psychological material, it is interesting. As a study of objective classifications, it is a nonsense.

Of my parents, one is English, one is Jersey. Go back a few generations, and my great-great-grandparents on my mother's side also came from England, while some of the other great-great-grandparents came from France, and others were still living in Jersey at that time. I would definitely consider myself Jersey, despite this background. Or should I create a new ethnic group: Anglo-French Jersey?

The UK Census also has its own classifications, but these included looking at national identity and distinguishing it from what it terms "ethnic" background (although there is clearly a muddle on what is "ethnic" and what is "racial"):

In most non-White ethnic groups in Britain in 2004, the majority of people described their national identity as British, English, Scottish or Welsh. This included almost nine in ten people from a Mixed (88 per cent) or Black Caribbean (86 per cent) group, around eight in ten people from a Pakistani (83 per cent), Bangladeshi (82 per cent) or Other Black (83 per cent) group, and three quarters (75 per cent) of the Indian group. (4)

In fact, Stephen Molnar noted that to single out just one attribute and try to fix on that as "ethnic" is doomed to fail, mainly because there is not a simple characteristic which can be chosen as a discrete marker of identity:

Group classification based on some single attribute, such as geographic origin (e.g., Asian), language (e.g., Hispanic), or skin color (e.g., white versus nonwhite) ignores all other attributes and neglects to consider degree of admixture. . . . The confusion over "color," origins, and genetics is even more extensive when the ethnic group African American is considered. Their ancestry is a mixture of African and European with a contribution of Native American genes, forming, in some areas, triracial hybrids'. . . . In addition, African ancestry is anything but homogeneous (5)

The mixing of racial and ethnic categories can also be seen in the USA, where one of the members of the US census committee noted that:

"Hispanics see themselves as one group ethnically and culturally despite the racial variety within the group." (6)

The confusion between different categories comes out most clearly when one considers the two classifications in the USA over black and Hispanic, which is parallel to the same kind of confusion in the Jersey census over "Black" and "British" or "Jersey":

Black. A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.
Hispanic. A person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race(6)

Really this is an extremely poorly thought out question, adopted no doubt from the UK, and it was first introduced when Senator Ozouf was in charge of revamping the census in 2001, and noted on his 2008 election platform that:

As President of Etat Civil, Oversaw 2001 Census, regarded as most accurate and detailed census of modern times. Estimated for first time Island population undercount and provide States with most accurate base line data on population, housing and many other statistics.(7)

The same spurious categories fed into the 2006 survey on States reform in 2006 where the categories forced the following assumptions on colour and background. It classified people as WHITE -Jersey, British, Portuguese/Madeiran, Irish, Polish, Other, and BLACK - African, Caribbean, Other, ASIAN - Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Other, although it did have a grouping for MIXED ETHNICITY - White and Black African, White and Black , White and Asian, Other ethnic background. (8)

Again it is confusing cultural identity (and nationality) with race. British is a classification of nationality or cultural identity, and the idea that British was a subset of White is totally untrue, as can be seen from the UK census.

It is interesting also that the most obviously ethnic characterisation does not get a look in. Unless subsumed under "other background", there is no Jewish ethnic count in the Jersey census, no doubt because of a justifiable fear that some categories create scapegoats. I'm not wholly convinced that "Portuguese" or "Polish" won't do the same.

But where would the Jew place themselves or be placed? In 1910, one of the prevailing views in Southern States of the USA  was succinctly noted in the title of a book:

In 1910 the Dixie Publishing Company of Moravian Falls, North Carolina, published The Jew a Negro, Being A Study of the Jewish Ancestry from an Impartial Standpoint by the Rev. Arthur T. Abernethy, A.M., Ph.D. Abernethy--a preacher, professor, and rustic journalist--sought to demonstrate through "ethnology" and "Scriptural proofs" how "the Jew of to-day, as well as his ancestors in other times, is the kinsman and descendant of the Negro." (9)

And it is notable that the placement of the Jew was problematic in the American South, where a folklore had evolved (coming from Europe) of the Jew as "dark and ugly" in contrast to the fair and handsome gentile:

In the American South the problem of the Jew's racial identity was a footnote to the larger debate on white-black relations, a question pushed forward in the racially unsettled period between 1850 to 1915. Jews were accepted as white, but their precise racial place was not fixed. A long tradition of European folklore, reinforced by an emerging racial science, cast the Jew on the black side of the color line.

Race thinkers usually classified race by three colors--white (Caucasian), yellow (Oriental), and black (African)--or by five, adding brown (Malay) and red (Indian).

A new scientific historicism opened Hebrew origins to debate. Jews were described variously as purely Caucasian Semites, dark Egyptians, ruddy Edomites, black Cushites, mixed-blood Chaldaeans, and so on.(9)

It was not just in the USA that such attitudes persisted. They even occurred in the 20th century:

The idea that Jews were "`black' or, at least, `swarthy'" prevailed in late nineteenth-century literature and persisted well into the twentieth century, particularly in Germany. Karl Marx labeled Ferdinand Lassalle, "the Jewish nigger," questioning his head shape and parentage. Houston Stewart Chamberlain thought Jews had interbred with Africans during their Alexandrian exile. Freud was labeled a "`black' Jew" and wrote of himself as a Mischling, a half breed with "Jewish-Negroid features."(9)

What can we learn from this? That the history of the Jews shows us how categorisation into supposedly "objective" "ethnic" or "racial" categories is arbitrary; it is a fiction which exists only in the social milieu of a particular culture. It tells us more about those creating and imposing those categories than anything "objective" and scientific.
And the experience of the Jews with ethnic or racial classification, as the last war demonstrated, has been a particularly unhappy one. The Jersey Alien's Officer was extremely remorseless in his categorisation of Jews, as historian Paul Sanders observed:

The Jersey Aliens Officer Clifford Orange who applied over-inclusive criteria to the process of registration. Orange appears not only more rigorous than his Guernsey counterpart, Sculpher, but even more thorough than the Germans themselves. The best example of Orange's pernicious impact is the case of Hedwig Bercu who should have never been on the list of registered Jews in Jersey, but nevertheless was, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Jersey Aliens Officer.(10)

The question about ethnic and cultural identity is misconceived. It tells us about how people think of themselves in terms of their identity, helpfully nudges people into pre-conceived straight-jackets (although it does permit the odd exception if people are critical of the form) and should be removed or radically re-thought.

It won't be, because someone will have the idea that the figures that emerge will mean something, even if they don't, and what is worrying as that they may be used to formulate some kind of policy on entirely spurious grounds.

Sir Humphrey: If local authorities don't send us statistics, Government figures will be a nonsense.
Hacker: Why?
Sir Humphrey: They'll be incomplete.
Hacker: Government figures are a nonsense, anyway.
Bernard: I think Sir Humphrey wants to ensure they're a complete nonsense.

(1) http://www.statesassembly.gov.je/documents/propositions/17662-15458-3072010.pdf
(2) http://www.gov.je/Government/Census2011/HelpCensus/Pages/Question8EthnicBackground.aspx
(3) http://www.gov.je/GOVERNMENT/PLANNINGPERFORMANCE/Pages/MinisterialDecisions.aspx?docid=292b44dd97775781e4702e71e918e65c_MDs
(4) http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=459
(5) Molnar, Stephen. "Human Variation: Races, Types, and Ethnic Groups". 4th ed. Upper Saddle River N.J.: Prenlice Hall, 1998
(6) Spurious Issues: Race and Multiracial Identity Politics in the United States. Rainier Spencer, 1999ber
(7) http://jerseyelections.info/senators/philip-ozouf.html
(8) http://www.gov.je/SiteCollectionDocuments/Government%20and%20administration/R%20SOJSurveyonElectoralReform%2020060829%20MORIforPPC.pdf
(9)  Is the Jew White?: The Racial Place of the Southern Jew. Leonard Rogoff,  American Jewish History. 1997
(10) http://www.jerseyheritage.org/templates/jerseyheritage/occupation_memorial/historybook/occupationhistorychapter3.pdf