Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Census forms

Like many others I have just received my census form to complete, or rather to keep until I know my circumstances on 27 March. It is a while since I last filled in one of these, and maybe my memory of the last occasion is clouded, but it seems quite intrusive.

What to make of the ethnicity questions? If you think of yourself as "White" you have four options (if you are in England at any rate, I have no idea what happens in other parts of the UK). These are (1) "English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British", (2) "Irish", (3) "Gypsy or Irish Traveller" and (4) "Any other ...".

Leaving aside the point that as I last understood it England, Wales and Scotland are all in Great Britain (Northern Ireland technically is not) so the juxtaposition between the two seems somewhat odd, what are these descriptions supposed to mean in terms of ethnicity? These are after all ethnicity-specific questions, as there is a separate question about how you would describe your "national identity" which includes similar choices.

The easy option, the first one, seems a bit of a cop out and lacking in romance. Family folklore has it that as well as coming from the then indigenous population in Sussex, we have Huguenot input (from which the family name derived) and also some North African (Berber) pirates who happened to land and settle in the south-west of the country after one raid too many. It is said that everyone has an Irish great grandmother and that is probably also the case of me, and it is certainly true of my children via my wife.

Like 90% of the rest of the population, to fulfil my duty to truth and completeness to Her Majesty's Government I will probably have to put an entry under "Any other" as "Mongrel". Faced with these intrusive questions, I encourage others to do the same.

Come to think of it, a new "English Mongrel Party" sounds quite attractive, as a kind of ethnically inclusive party that most other UK parties seem to lack, with their post-imperial echoes. We could have St George as our patron saint, one of legends surrounding which is that he came from North Africa and therefore might be a distant relative, although if he existed at all I accept that it is more likely that he came from Palestine but, hey, there is probably some of that in me and most others as well. St George is suitably ambiguous on ethnicity.

At any rate, Archbishop Sentamu has been banging on about it again and he has always seemed quite a cool dude to me, and refreshingly unpredictable.

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