A minority ethnic group

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Last updated: November 16, 2019

A minority ethnic group is a community whose members share common cultural traditions existing as a minority in a much larger society. We can find inequalities with a racial or ethnic dimension around the world.

But there are great variations in the nature and significance of such inequalities. In Europe, racial divisions have emerged out of a colonial past and recent history of inward labour migration. Whereas, patterns of racial and ethnic disadvantage have very different flavours in the ‘melting pot’ societies of U.S.A and Australia.It is argued that these varied divisions are not the natural and inevitable product of something called race but instead are socially constructed.

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So, it follows that they can only be understood in their particular historical and political contexts. This argument will be developed through a discussion of race inequalities in one such context – contemporary Britain.Discussions of race in Britain since the 1950s have focused on the consequences of mass migration of people from the New Commonwealth (India, Pakistan and West Indies) but British history is full of other sizeable influxes of migrants.

During the 1800s, for example, large numbers of people from Ireland settled in Britain. Similarly between 1870 and 1914, many Eastern European Jews crossed the Channel fleeing from religious persecution. Both these groups were initially treated as racially distinct from the British in a way, which would appear incongruous today.In the period following the Second World War, around thirty million people entered Western Europe in one of the great migratory movements.

There were labour shortages in key sectors of the economy so the governments and businesses actively recruited foreign workers in an attempt to solve this problem. New Commonwealth migration of Britain was part of this worldwide process. Citizenship of the Commonwealth gave migrants the right of permanent settlement.People arriving from the West Indies, India and Pakistan in the 1950s and 1960s found Britain to be, in many ways, inhospitable. Open racial discrimination was lawful, job or room advertisements would often state: ‘No-Coloureds’. Whatever skills or ambitions brought with them, most were slotted into the lower echelons of the labour market. Migrant labour was seen as a way of filling the jobs that the others did not want.

Employers, white employees and their trade unions channelled migrants into those jobs, which were low-paid, had poor conditions and involved shift work.Almost from its inception, New Commonwealth migration into Britain prompted rigorous public debate about its desirability. So, Immigration Acts in 1962, 1968 and 1971, restricted primary immigration from the New Commonwealth. Hand in hand with this restriction and in the face of mounting evidence of disadvantage faced by the migrants, came a series of Race Relations Acts in 1962, 1966 and 1976 which attested to out-law discrimination in grounds of race.

With few exceptions, since the 1970s only dependants of existing settlers from the New Commonwealth could enter Britain. Despite this, non-white population has continue to grow primarily because the lower than average age migrants have generated higher than average birth rates.Although non-white presence in Britain is now well-established, its is striking how many continuities still exist between the problems faced by members of minorities today and those which confronted migrants who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s.

If we examine the position of Britain’s racialised minorities, we can see that the Race Relations Acts have had a very limited impact. Into the 1980s minority workers were:1. Concentrated in particular sectors of the economy.

Asians particularly Pakistanis predominated in manufacturing while there are high number of West Indians in transport and services.2. Found mainly in occupations at the lower end of the occupational scale.

3. On average, even in comparison with the white workers in the same socio-economic group, lower paid.4.

Working long hours, more likely to do shifts and less likely to be given supervisory responsibility than white workers in the same occupational category.Although there has been improvement since the 1960s, people from minorities still, on average live in markedly lower-quality and lower-value housing. They are more likely to suffer from over-crowding and lack of basic amenities. (Social Trends, 1993)In 1989, the Prison Reform Trust reported that if all groups were imprisoned at the same rate as non-white people the prison population would be 300,000 instead of 50,000. A range of studies have pointed to the unequal treatment of non-white people by the police and courts too.While the story from the 1960s to the early 1980s was one of continuity in patterns of disadvantage experienced by minorities, recent studies suggest that significant changes are under way.

A key change during the 1980s has been that men from the minorities have started to enter professional and managerial jobs in larger numbers than before. On the one hand, the growth of the number of professional and managerial positions and labour shortages in some occupations and regions has created opportunities for highly qualified member of minorities. On the other hand, mass unemployment, declining industry, the flight of jobs from the inner cities where minorities are concentrated and restructuring in the public sector have worsened the prospects of those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale.Discrimination on the grounds of race also takes form of violence and harassment from some members of white majority. Where violence and abuse may be most blatant manifestations of racial discriminations, other more insidious practices have equally significant consequences for member of minorities.

These include institutional racism and subjective racism the more important of these two being the former. As Braham, Rattensi and Skellington (1992) point out, in addition to ‘direct discrimination’, ‘knowingly and deliberately applied’ it is important to consider ‘discrimination in its covert, indirect and unintentional forms.’ This broader approach to racism is highly significant since if it is accepted, attention moves from motives to outcomes.

Supporters of this theory may argue that it is possible to participate in racist practices without necessarily holding racist beliefs. This employed to execute Britain’s immigration law, for example, could be said to be implementing racist rules whatever their personal beliefs. Another example is of elite schools whose entry requirements include evidence of regular church attendance, which automatically exclude the children of non-Christian minorities.Therefore, racism has a great effect on the lived of ethnic minority group members. Their social position is to a great extent degraded just because they follow cultures and beliefs different from those of the majority. The Europeans have enslaved others from way back and developed a sense of superiority over present and former colonies.

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