Approaching Problems Of Identity In Britain Cultural Studies Essay

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What is Britain- a geographical presence or a political vision? An economic machine or a model of civilisation? A reservoir of its culture or a symbol of modernity? These paradoxes come up when Britain's cultural development in respect to diverse and multiple identities is considered. This essay focuses on the argument that the identity problems Britain's nation is facing can be approached by the concept of multiculturism in application, which Max Weber claims as the only way a political organisation can be born out of modernity. This argument will be critically discussed with examples in this essay. The initial part of the essay will discover the concept of multiculturalism in Britain and its connection with the construction of identity. In the middle, primary research conducted by other researchers will be used to portray the changes in the identity structure and eventually justifying that these problems can be sourced from the very implementation of multiculturalism.

Over last thirty years, the multicultural policies developed the social and cultural relations in the country which influenced the identity definitions and the 'Britishness' of the minority groups. On the other hand the failed tries to use multiculturalism as a solution produced the segregation in the identities, racism in job markets and schools which all together ignited the minorities towards religious and cultural fundamentalism which is evident from the Southall Riots in 1979, Brixton Riots in 1981, Bradford Riots and London Bombings. Here a shift of focus of cultural differences could be noticed from 'colour' in 1950 to 'race' in 60s and 70s, 'ethnicity' in 80s and 90s and finally 'religion' in 2000s.

To further understand the development of identity problems from the multiculturism, examples from the research done by Ülkü Güney (2007) on the relation of multiculturism with the identity crisis of Pakistani British Muslim Youth will be referred. Following are the conversations with the interviewees:


When I was young, when I was in school I had friends, I had many Indian friends, Sikh friends, Hindu friends we all used to hang around and play together. But when we was labeled we was labelled Pakis. … It was more the skin, you knew the skin colour not the religion. It was just like you see an Asian coloured face is a Paki. They weren't really aware of your religion, your culture. You were just labelled a Paki, you were Pakistani Muslim or Hindu or Indian Sikh or who ever you were just the Paki. All together: Hindus, Sikhs we were labeled Pakis. And now that same label from being of Pakis is being applied across the board to Muslims. Every Asian looking person is a Muslim. Potential Muslim, potential terrorist.

This use of term 'paki' to refer to all south Asian ethnicity holders reflects the colour homogenisation in the identification of the identities. The term 'paki' is a racist reference to the people from Pakistani origion. Hall (1996) comments this phenomenon interrogatory as 'how we have been represented and how that bears on how we might represent ourselves' (Hall 1996: 4, Hall 1997). However, this occurrence conflicts with the unifying category of black colour as they are not referred as Pakis (Gilroy 1987, Brah 1992).

The research interviewee Ilhan further said:

"We are all the same Asian background, cultural background. But also where I lived we all lived in the same neighbourhood within four or five streets amongst each other. We went to the same first schools, second school, and upper school. But we also had white European friends so we ... - we had very good English friends."

Furthermore, in response to the reasons of the changes happened in above stated circumstances, he added:

"Ye Pakistani Muslims, Sikhs stay for themselves. Hindu young men stay in their own communities. There is no integration. And whites stay by themselves due to number of factors: It's where they live- the neighbourhoods. They are more segregated. Ye people don't mix. They don't integrate. Look, if you walk down any street down here [Manningham area] you will see eight out of ten houses are Asian."

These conversations highlight important happenings in accordance with the shifting in the scope and concept of the identities of the minority groups in UK. First is the group gatherings in multicultural environment reflects the secular identification of the identities. Secondly, it also emphasise that these gatherings could only happen because of space of interaction. Platforms like schools, playgrounds and neighbourhood were not segregated. This is expressed by Back (1996) as the shared locality offers an alternative identity option to divisive and exclusive nations of 'race'.

But in the later answers, Ilhan did point of the change which increased the segregation of races. Same race groups tend to stay with their own races creating an identity label to describe them. To defend racial labelling, these groups were found getting more fundamentalist to the followings of their religions. Therefore, these spatial segregations with the help of multiculturalist platforms change the images of self-perception of minority groups through religion as a unifying agent (Güney, 2007).

Here, in these conversations it is obvious how the segregation due to multiculturalism, as discussed earlier, leads to the identity problems of social exclusion and eventually to racism. The area of Manningham is an example of this spatial segregation. Alexander (2002) comments on the district as impoverished and became a signifier for the "Asian underclass" or the "Asian gang". This exclusion on the basis of identity is experienced by the youth in the job market when they apply for the jobs. The ethnicity boxes on the application forms make the applicant feel that they are opting to be racially discriminated. These are one of the basic problems in the political efforts (equal opportunities policy) whose objective was to assess and prevent disadvantage of ethnic minorities (Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1992). However, these policies lead to opposite results.

This essay has explored the concepts of multiculturalism, identity formation in multiculturism and the relation of identity problems with multicultural environment. It has been proved that under the above stated definition of multiculturism, the efforts (multicultural education policies, equal opportunities polices) to use it through provision of multicultural platforms (schools, mixed gatherings, workplaces etc) did not work out according to the plans. Instead, it created the problems of identity such as social exclusion, discrimination and racism. A further inquiry, would relate these problem to the common social dilemma's such as terrorism evident by the bombing incidents etc. and racial hate.