The term fails to capture the cultural and political diversity among Black Britons
The term ‘South Asian’ masks important socio-economic and socio-political differences between Britain’s notable Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi communities. But how useful is the phrase ‘black community’?
The term continues to be used by mainstream politicians, journalists and social commentators across the ideological spectrum. The UK BLM political organisation refers to the ‘black diaspora’ on its official funding page. However, there is growing evidence that suggests that the term ‘black community’ is wholly inadequate in capturing the cultural and political diversity among Black British people. Two sizeable co-racial groups — Black British Africans and Black British Caribbeans — are vastly different in terms of their political attitudes and social behaviour.
My new report for the Henry Jackson Society found that when compared with co-racial counterparts of Caribbean origin, British Black Africans are notably more positive about the current state of UK race relations and less likely to think that we live in a fundamentally racist society. As well as being more likely to attach importance to their religious identity, Black British Africans are less likely to say that they had an unstable family life during their childhood — and crucially, are more likely to report satisfaction with their life in Britain. This supports previous work on institutional trust which shows that Black British Africans, when compared with Black British Caribbeans, are far more likely to have confidence in their local police force and report satisfaction with British democracy.
So, what can account for some of these differences? ‘Frame of reference’ is likely to play its part. Black British Caribbeans, who are more rooted in the UK in terms of duration, originate from relatively stable nation-states with multi-party parliamentary democracies. This certainly isn’t the case for Black British Africans, who are comparative more ‘recently-arrived’ as a group. With some originating from relatively unstable countries characterised by severe political oppression and intense societal fractionalisation, there is no surprise if they have a naturally positive orientation towards British democracy and UK race relations.
The figures on family and faith encourage fresh thinking on integration. Black British Caribbeans are ‘hyper-integrated’ in a secular mainstream that is now characterised by internationally high levels of family breakdown. Meanwhile, Black British Africans, traditionally devout and with stronger ‘in-group’ social and economic networks, are simply not as ‘hyper-integrated’ in this sense. This naturally gives rise to the admittedly unconventional view that there may be a ‘sweet spot’ in terms of social integration — with ‘hyper-integration’ potentially leading to undesirable outcomes.
What all of this tells us is that the term ‘black community’ is a fictitious social construct which does not reflect the reality on the ground. The notion of ‘Black Britain’ is a myth — Black Britons do not represent a singular mono-cultural bloc that sings from the same hymn sheet. It is high time that the disaggregation of the culturally-diverse Black British population, informs both our social policy and broader political discourse in the UK.
Dr Rakib Ehsan is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, specialising in social integration and ethnic-minority public attitudes.