Magazine article The Spectator

Are You an Irish Polynesian?

Magazine article The Spectator

Are You an Irish Polynesian?

Article excerpt

AMONG the thousands of questions my seven-year-old son has fired across cafe tables and crowded railway carriages, one has been conspicuous by its absence: `Daddy, why is that man black?' Admittedly, our neighbourhood is not the most renowned cultural melting pot, yet I do not remember a single occasion when race has ever been an issue for him. Whether it can be put down to the educational value of the obligatory black figures which now feature in every children's book, or is demonstrative of the natural acceptance shown by children when adults around them don't make an issue of race, I like to feel that we have made progress since my own childhood in the 1970s, when the young still had a tendency to stare at black people as if they had descended from outer space.

What, then, do you say to your children when they bring home in their satchels a questionnaire demanding to know whether they are white, black, Chinese or Gypsy? Over the past few weeks thousands of schoolchildren have received a similar form, asking them to assess their own `ethnic identity'. Any child above 11, say the guidance notes for parents, should make the judgment themselves. Children who until now have had no reason to think of themselves as anything other than a human being are being obliged to classify themselves, like a worm in a biology lesson, as belonging to one of 15 species and 65 sub-species, each given a four-letter code. You can, for example, be `White British' (WBRI), a `Traveller of Irish Heritage' (WIRT), a Gypsy Roma (WROM); you can be `Black Caribbean' (BCRB), 'Chinese' (CHNE) or - which, until I came across the government's ethnic classification system, I thought applied only to zebras - a `White and Black African' (MWBA). You cannot-- lest anyone should be fooled into thinking that bureaucrats who work in ethnic awareness had succeeded in purging their minds of all prejudice - be a British Chinese or a British Gypsy.

It would be cheap to equate the Department for Education's ethnic-awareness census with anything dreamed up in Nazi Germany, though the absence of the word 'Jew' anywhere on the form does indicate a certain awareness of, and sensitivity towards, historical parallel. The government's intentions are presumably benign, even though Cambridgeshire County Council and the Department for Education both failed to answer my question as to what they intended to do with the data. Yet I do not believe I am alone in feeling unease at the way government departments are suddenly developing an obsession with race.

If your child's state school doesn't appear to have much time for teaching any more, it may well be because the staff are bogged down in producing a written policy promoting race equality and in publishing annually the results of their `ethnic monitoring' survey, as they have been ordered to do by the government. The Commission for Racial Equality has sent out to every school a 38-page booklet on their duties, helpfully suggesting how they ought to go about formulating their policy: they should set up a group including the head teacher, a governor, several teachers and 'a representative from the pupils' council'. When they have finished their first draft, it should be sent to unions and local community groups for comment, and everyone invited to a series of meetings to discuss it. When it is finalised, the policy should be promoted via a poster campaign `in all main languages used in the community'. All, presumably, to come up with some mealy-mouthed variation on the words `this school does not discriminate against pupils on the grounds of their race'.

No doubt the egos of a few local busybodies will have been boosted, but no school will ever succeed in pleasing the shifting demands of the race-relations industry. Bosham primary school near Chichester has gone to great lengths to teach pupils about other cultures, with lessons on Hinduism and Islam; but when it was inspected by Ofsted last October it was criticised for failing to `prepare pupils for life in today's multi-ethnic Britain'. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.