Can we still speak of a shared ‘black’ identity, inclusive of people of Asian as well as African descent? Discuss the contribution of this term to debates on contemporary ethnic identities. “An identity gives us a location in the world and presents the link between us and the society in which we live in” (Woodward, 1999:1). In contemporary society, an individual’s sense of identity provide the answer to the question ‘Who am I’?
An individual’s identity also provides the foundation for their social and political concerns “An identity gives us an idea of who we are and how we relate to others in the social world”. (Woodward, 1999:1). The ethnic identity of an individual has become a significant source of identity, especially in present day ‘multicultural’ Britain, with groups of individuals originating from differing cultural and religious backgrounds.
The American Civil Rights movement led to many individuals of contrasting non-white groups, identifying themselves with an oppressed, non-white minority with differing cultural and ethnic backgrounds, different from the indigenous white population. Consequently leading to the term ‘black’ being adopted has an ‘umbrella’ to “capture the commonalities in experience of racial and ethnic exclusion” (Mason, 2000:17); however the use of this term has become highly contested in British society over recent decades.
In the United States of America the term ‘black’ has been used to describe those of African descent however in Britain, especially in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the term has been applied to those individuals who are non-white and not of African descent, namely those of Asian origins (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). where as the term “Asian” has always referred to people of South Asian origin, such as Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. It has tended to exclude the Chinese population” (Song, 2003:99).
For the indigenous white population of Britain, the idea of ethnic identity is less politicized than that of ‘black’ identity; in Britain it tends to be the norm when an individual is ‘white’. The idea of ethnic identity becomes actively important on rare occasions, such as sporting events, when individual’s shows acts of patriotism in support for the English, Welsh or Scottish national teams in sports such as Rugby. The usage of the term ‘black’ to identify individuals and populations has experienced fundamental transformations over recent decades; usage of such a term still remains highly contested.
In many discourses the word ‘black’ symbolizes negative aspects of social life but social movements have done much to challenge such discourses, placing an emphasis on the beauty of being ‘black’, popular cultures such as lyrics within musical songs have expressed the beauty associated with being ‘black’ providing a simple and meaningful political statement for which the ‘non-white’ population of Britain can become united in achieving equality against the sometimes ‘oppressive’ white population.
According to Song (2003), the idea of a shared ‘black’ identity is best represented through non-governmental organizations such as the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD), the idea of a shared ‘black’ identity provided a unifying basis for Asian and African Caribbean women in their efforts to develop a Black Feminist perspective, highlighting the inequalities experienced by non-white middle class women. This idea of a shared ‘black’ identity was influential in “constructing common political strategies to confront patriarchal practices, racism and class inequalities” (Song 2003: 100)
However the idea of a shared ‘black’ identity gives the idea of a monolithic ‘black’ population, with common cultural attributes. During the period of decolonization migrant workers immigrated to the United Kingdom forming a fraction of the working class population, These migrants from the colonies and ex-colonies of Britain, had a collective aspiration for economic growth, coupled with a sense of a communal English language, these migrant workers were able to consort with each other in the inner-city housing estates that had been vacated by white populated, who were sceptical of their new ‘unwelcome visitors’.