Why the Office for National Statistics should change its racist census in Wales
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
The census is racist.
The Office for National Statistics’ 2021 survey essentially suggests you’re not Welsh if you’re not white.
This is an appalling state of affairs, and the ONS has quite rightly received a fierce backlash.
The singer Kizzy Crawford is one of many who’ve expressed grave concerns about the census in its current form.
Now anyone can, regardless of skin colour, tick a box for Welsh as a nationality. That is not the issue.
However, what is an issue is how Welsh identity is treated as an ethnic category. You can only tick a box to identify as ethnically Welsh if you are white. If you’re not white you cannot do this. If you want to identify as ethnically Welsh you are forced to scribble it down next to the word other.
Well people from ethnic minority backgrounds are not ‘other’ I’m afraid and to label them as such is just not good enough.
So according to this census, you can be presumed to be ethnically Welsh if you are white. You are presumed not to be if you are a member of the BAME community. There is something very troubling indeed about this assumption. It creates hierarchies of Welshness based on race.
It has a bitter Orwellian flavour. You see, you can all be Welsh. But some are more Welsh than others. It is a narrow and unsophisticated view of identity.
It looks like what might be euphemistically be called a bureaucratic oversight. People can often overlook issues that don’t impact them directly. That is why by the way, it is important to get more people from diverse backgrounds into positions of power and influence. Unfortunately, when concerns were raised about this issue, the response of the ONS was characterised by bureaucratic tone-deafness.
The only positive I can think of when it comes this situation is that the issue has been spotted in ample time to rectify it before the census comes out. Indeed, there doesn’t seem to me to be any excuse not to.
Unfortunately, the lack of anything resembling a legitimate excuse hasn’t prevented the ONS from ham-fistedly making them. I hope they will find the common sense and the common decency to put this injustice right.
If I am messing around and accidentally whack someone in the nose, it’s not as bad as if I punch them on purpose. But I should still say sorry, and take steps avoid being as reckless in the future. If I don’t apologise, and I keep on behaving in the same reckless manner, then I come across as a callous idiot. A whack on the nose is painful whether it was intended or not.
This is how the ONS is behaving at present and it’s just not good enough. It has demonstrated a disturbing lack of empathy, and by doing so, it has compounded the original sin.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would be a lot more forgiving if the ONS issued a mea culpa and committed to changing the forms. Obstinately refusing to do what essentially boils down to adding a few boxes so that they are no longer racist, is utterly indefensible. It is bureaucratic hubris of the worst kind.
This kind of thoughtlessness can and does have damaging consequences. The consequence here is that members of the BAME community feel less welcome in the country than they should. They deserve much better than this.
It is indicative of a broader problem, where people from ethnic minority group are marginalised and othered by the society and its institutions. Racism isn’t only racial slurs and so on. It is often subtler. This can make it more insidious tougher to tackle. People won’t address a problem when they claim it doesn’t exist.
This is just a few steps removed from Donald Trump telling US Members of Congress with ethnic minority backgrounds to ‘go home’.
The point of the census is to tell us something about who we are. Well the census in its current incarnation is telling us something very ugly about our society, and how the BAME community is treated by our institutions. Well, let’s instead, use the next one to tell people that their Welshness is not defined by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Being told that you’re not really that Welsh because you’re black is just as stupid and non-sensical as telling you that you’re not because you’re white. It is completely illogical and fundamentally immoral.
There is no difference in the passion we feel for the country we call home. There is no difference in the pride we feel when we sing Hen Wlad fy Nhadau. That pride cannot be treated like a one way street. That is a road to nowhere good. It is a road to prejudice. It is a road to discrimination. We need to change direction and quickly because the current situation is creating anger as well as real pain and distress.
Who the hell is anyone to tell someone like international rugby hero Josh Navidi that he is not as Welsh another person? Who has the right to tell former hurdle world record holder Colin Jackson that he isn’t really all that Welsh? Do we really think it’s ok to say footballers Rabbi Matondo and Ethan Ampadu aren’t quite as Welsh as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey because of the colour of their skin? The ONS does not have that right and nor does anyone else.
It does not have to be this way. They have already sorted this issue in Scotland. We can do the same here in Wales, and we must.
I am pretty certain that I will be attacked considerably less for writing this piece purely because I happen to be a middle-class white man. I’ve watched with considerable dismay as women of colour have been abused online, and told that they aren’t really Welsh by swivel-eyed trolls after speaking out on this issue. It’s grim. The census in its current form feeds this monster.
Welshness is not defined or measured by skin pigmentation, and it is high time to stop treating it as if it is.