Ethnicity – Culture and Identity

Lesson objectiveTo explore ethnicity in relation to culture and identity.
Lesson outcomes• Compare ethnicity to gender, sexuality, nationality, disability and age.
• Assess to what extent ethnicity is still relevant today.
• Explain the characteristics of different ethnicities in relation to culture and identity.


It is really important not to assume that ethnicity is anything to do with a person’s skin colour. There are many skin colours which may look or be similar, but this does not mean a person has the same ethnicity. In Britain, we refer to ethnicities ask minority ethnic groups, since the majority is white British.

Explaining ethnic identities

Anwar (1998) and Ghuman (1999) discovered hat South Asian Families emphasise the importance of family and religion when creating socialisation. Do not forget that now school’s have become more privatised that there are many more different types including faith schools e.g. catholic and Sikh. Whilst they are religious and not ethnic, there is a strong link between ethnicity. Sewell (1996) highlights the impact the media has on shaping a person’s identity. The evidence suggested that Young African Caribbean achieved their identities through the media and the stereotypes presented.

Agencies of socialisation and ethnicity

The family – Those families that possess a cultural heritage teach children their normal, values, religion etc. Subconsciously, racism can also be passed down from generation to generation.

Education – Traditionally, the UK’s education system tends to be ethnocentric towards white people. That said, because of marketisation, there has been an increase in different types of school. One such school is a “faith school”. Certain ethnicities might favour sending their child to a religious school e.g. a Sikh school. Alternatively, they may be the result of institutional racism within the education system e.g. black labelling.

Religion – There are many types of religious institutions in the UK and individuals can choose which school of thought to believe. These institutions provide much guidance and values for individuals.

Media – The media can act as a gateway to bridging distant cultures to Britain e.g. an Indian family might watch Bollywood at home to stay in touch with their culture. Ethnic minorities form their identities from the media. The media, however, can also have negative influences e.g. by promoting racism.

White Mask

All in all, agencies of socialisation can shape ethnic identity with relative ease. Fanon (2008) created the term white mask which is where individuals with an ethnic background and culture may seek to play that element down and adopt white culture to fit into society.

Diaspora and globalisation

Diaspora is where a specific ethnic culture spreads out globally across different countries whilst retaining their own home culture. These individuals carry their culture with them e.g. arranged marriages in the UK. See this link and this one. Hall (1992) suggests that ethnic identities are harder to identify as they are adopting other cultures. Burdsey (2004) noted that among young British Asians, designer clothes, drugs etc. were being adopted which traditionally was attributed to white British.

Ethnic identities

White British identities – White British individuals possess more power inside society and therefore do not really need to exert their identities. Primary and secondary socialisation tends to be ethnocentric towards white individuals. White individuals do not tend to suffer the same disadvantages as other ethnicities e.g. racism since in society they are the majority. It is important to note that white British can mean a range of different cultures and subcultures e.g. Romanian British, English, Scottish etc.

African-Caribbean – Gilroy (2002) claims that there is no single black identity called the “Black Atlantic” (stemming from slavery) – this is a fallacy. Black Caribbean identities are a textbook example of diaspora resulting in a wide range of cultures being evident in creating identities. Fuller (1980) and other sociologists suggest that most black African culture is creating from resistance to other dominant cultures. Fuller studied girls in a London comprehensive school and found that their adoption of an anti-school subculture was created out of negative stereotyping by the teachers. This is called internalisation.

Asian identities – Modood et al (1994) used interviews and group discussions to look at the various cultural differences between Asians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis in language, religion, music, diet and dress. They found that there were many subcultures in Asian identities and stressed the importance not to generalise. Every variation was very different each sharing their own culture and identity. Mirza et al (2007) researched young female Asians and identified that their reason for wearing a hijab was not due to family or religious reasons but peer. It has become synonymous with the identity of a Muslim and therefore is created an identity for the girls. Giddens (2005) developed this further and suggested that the hijab can be seen by feminists as liberating women by undermining the male gaze, others see it as oppression. Finally, Jacobson claimed that Asian identities attempted to overcome stereotypes in the media and by society by building a positive identity e.g. Nandi and Platt (2014) showed that all Muslim groups were much more likely to identify as being British than the white majority.

Postmodernism and SATS

  • Postmodernists would claim that globalisation is creating a greater pick and mix for individuals to identify with.
  • SATs would suggest that individuals are not passive and the evidence suggests they are active in creating their own identities.
  • Structuralists would argue that society’s constraints and rules shape individuals identities e.g. racism forcing Black cultures into opposition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: