Why the Office for National Statistics should change its racist census in Wales

The rehearsal census form sent to some households 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.

 

Insidious

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’.

Monster

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.

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Simon GruffyddRhosdduWalter HuntMawkernewekjr humphrys Recent comment authors
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Theresa Green
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Theresa Green

For once I entirely agree with the sentiment.
However we are still firstly British and as we were born in Wales, I guess that makes us Welsh too.

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

Very sweeping statement. I am Welsh and a European. I don’t consider that I’m British at all, apart from for passport purposes – which incidentally, doesn’t contain a word of Welsh. I think that at least we should have the option of a passport where Welsh is included should we so desire. However, I would much prefer to hold a passport of the Welsh republic!

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Likewise a Welsh-language driving license (remember those little sticky-back Welsh flags you could stick over the Union Flag on your license, and which the police used to take off if they happened to pull you up?)

Paul
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Paul

There’s Welsh in my passport, along with Finnish, Portuguese and a host of other languages.

I suggest you look harder.

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

Paul, only English, Gaelic and Cymraeg in the new ones. No mention of European Union either, though still in mauve color.

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

Burgundy is the official color, sorry.

David Owen
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David Owen

The Office for National Statistics is based in Casnewydd/Newport. (how should we feel about that!)

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

Which means it could be picketed. should the need arise!

Leigh Richards
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Leigh Richards

This outrage isnt happening in Scotland’s census. Once again we see an arm of the british state, the ONS, subjecting people in Wales – in this case Welsh BAME people – to second class treatment.

Simon Gruffydd
Guest

An interesting examination into the roots of national identification. What makes one ‘Welsh’? The author argues that it’s not skin colour. That’s certainly true, given that the vast majority of White people on this planet are not Welsh. So what entitles us to call ourselves Welsh? The author seems to boil it down to feelings, particularly the feeling of pride. Basing national identity on ones feelings is placing it on very shaky ground. Is a Welshman who feels more pride in Wales than their neighbour more Welsh? I think not. So putting aside feelings, which come and go, what, may… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

That could actually make matters worse, as there would be those who would be constantly crowing that they were more Welsh due to the level of Welsh ancestry. Self identity does have it’s downsides. but I think they are far less pronounced than some of the alternatives.

Anyone with a ‘Colonel Blimp’ attitude self-identifying as Welsh would soon be laughed out of town, for they would be exposed by the sheer absurdity this would entail.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Is the census asking for ethnicity or for nationality? The answer for an ethnic minority respondent will obviously be different for the two cases. The majority of such questionnaires (i.e. those that make no distinction between English, Welsh, etc. on the one hand and ‘British’ on the other) get round the problem by providing optional answers that subsume the two questions: (Black British, White British, etc.) Wales’s case is unique among UK member countries in that its recognised national ethnic majority is under threat from population transfer from over the border. Wales’s colonial status inevitably means that White British, Asian… Read more »

Mike McGrane
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Mike McGrane

Totally agree, if you’re born here you’re Welsh regardless of colour or creed. To say otherwise is just plain twp!

Simon Gruffydd
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An old hard-core Welsh republican friend of mine, some of you may have known him, Pedr Lewis, was actually born in Hong Kong while his parents were working there. I can say categorically that he never considered himself Chinese – and had he returned to China and claimed so, I’m sure he would not have been taken seriously.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Jesus Christ was, allegedly, born in a manger but was never considered to be a horse !

As for Welshness/Cymreictod it all depends on the individual. Some people choose to join our nation and make a real effort to integrate, others born within this nation spend their lives turning their backs on it. You can’t make up too many rules in advance about this sort of issue.

Simon Gruffydd
Guest

If Jesus Christ’s mother was a mare I’m sure he would have been considered a horse.

Speaking of which, Jews derive their identity matrilineally, which makes my 2 nephews Jews because my brother married a Morgan Jewess from a matrilineal line of German Jews. And they were born in Canada. So they are Canadian Welsh Jews. A mixture of family and birth place. It’s not always clear cut, granted.

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

Are we talking nationality, ethnicity or cultural identity? People are using these terms interchangeably but whether they are interchangeable varies from country to country.

Walter Hunt
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Walter Hunt

How people self identify is important to them, but why is it interesting to the state?

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

People who hold dual nationality may have conflicting loyalties during a war between those two states?

Walter Hunt
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Walter Hunt

My semi-rhetorical question was why the state should want to know who identifies as Welsh and/or BAME and/or Jedi or whatever, rather than what passport(s) someone living in Wales is entitled to. I question not only the usefulness of some of the census questions, but also the usefulness of this once every 10 years census full stop.

John Evans
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John Evans

Totally agree that this is wrong, should have the option to define your background more accurately. But, BAME – black asian minority ethnic? Until there is welsh independence then by definition I belong to BAME despite being White and Welsh – MINORITY ETHNIC – definition ‘a group within a community which has different national or cultural traditions from the main population.’ tell me I’m not.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

You’re not. In a UK context, you’re a member of a national minority, not an ethnic minority, by virtue of being a member of one of the indigenous British races. ‘Ethnic minority’ denotes an immigrant race. These are the United Nations definitions. In a Welsh context, the Welsh are the national majority, and there are no national minorities. There are some ethnic minorities (English, Afro-Carribbean, Asian, etc.)

Fun fact: the other term for a national majority is ‘autochthonous’ (indigenous, as opposed to descended from migrants or colonisers).

Mawkernewek
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According to the draft version reproduced here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-50643415 the “national identity” question is Question 16 and “ethnic group” question 17. In the 2011 census, these were asked in this form: wikimiedia commons wikimedia commons In the tickbox of section A of Q17 in the 2021 draft, there is not actually a tickbox for Welsh, there is a tickbox for “Welsh, English, Scottish, Northern Irish or British”. In England presumably it is the same but with English preceding Welsh, as it appears in the 2011 links from Wikimedia above. Only those who write it in would be separately counted as Welsh,… Read more »