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Understanding Modern Black Britain


Understanding Modern Black Britain
Africans form the immigrant group with the highest level of education in Britain

AFRICANGLOBE – Defining What it means to be British is becoming more complicated.

As the 2011 Census has made clear, the country is no longer White, Christian and monolingual but a melting pot of cultures.

The result is visible on our TV screens, in our cuisine, on the airwaves with Black British artists such as Tinie Tempah and Emile Sande an almost permanent fixture. Indeed in 2013, Sande broke a record set by the Beatles–the most British of exports – when her debut album sat in the Top 10 for more than 63 weeks.

African and mixed race people are among the fastest growing ethnic groups. One of the most popular boy’s names is Mohamed and there are some schools, particularly in London, where more than 100 different languages are spoken.

Of course, Britain has always had small pockets of diversity dating back thousands of years, such as Liverpool which claims the oldest Black population in the country. But it was the docking of SS Windrush in 1948 that marked the dawn of a new era.

As noted in a new report from right wing think tank Policy Exchange, published earlier this month: “The arrival of the Windrush is a landmark event said to mark the beginning of mass post-war migration to the UK and it gave rise to the term the ‘Windrush generation’.”


These highly-skilled Caribbean pioneers – who predominantly hailed from Britain’s then colony Jamaica – laid the foundation for the country we know today. There was a steady stream of Caribbean migrants until 1962, but since then have been joined by Africans from Somalia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana, to name a few.

It is no surprise then that one of the most important findings of the report, aptly-named A Portrait of Modern Britain, is that there is no one homogenous ‘Black’ group. For example, Britons of Caribbean descent are more likely to vote Conservative than British Africans.

All the more reason, its authors Rishi Sunak and Saratha Rajeswaran say, why a study like this is needed, and uses survey, census, academic and polling data to back up its findings.

In their introduction, they explained: “Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people now make up a significant and fast-growing part of the population. However, understanding of these communities has not kept up with their rising importance.

“From a political perspective, few attempts have been made to properly understand Britain’s minority communities and there is a tendency in the media to assume that all BME communities can be treated as a single political entity – as if all ethnic minorities held similar views and lived similar lives. But clearly there is no single ‘BME community’.

“Families that came to the UK decades ago from the Caribbean will be quite different to recent arrivals from Somalia, or indeed Indian immigrants from East Africa. And single ethnic identities are themselves becoming more complex due to the growth of the mixed population and generational change.”

David Lammy, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community, welcomed the report.

“This paper is a seminal piece of work and I’m sure it will form a firm foundation on which discussion and debate about the impacts of policy on BME communities can be built”, said the Labour MP said, who has Guyanese heritage, like his parliamentary predecessor, the late Bernie Grant.

As it stands, Britain’s ethnic minority population totals eight million, representing 14 per cent of the UK population. By 2051, it is estimated that BME communities will represent up to 30 per cent of the UK’s population.

New Understanding: The Policy Exchange Report Sheds Light On Britain’s Minority Communities

The five largest groups (in descending order) are Indian, Pakistani, African, Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi.

While the White population has remained roughly the same size over the past decade, the minority population has almost doubled – accounting for 80 per cent of the UK’s population growth.


One exception is Britain’s Black Caribbean group which, like White Britons, is slowing down and is, on average, older than African communities, aged 38 and 39 respectively. In contrast, the average age for British Bangladeshis is 22.

“As the longest settled minority community in the UK, perhaps it is unsurprising that Black Caribbeans have an age structure that is most like the White population with a significant proportion of citizens over the age of 60,” suggests the report.

It adds: “Black Caribbeans were also socialised under British rule and familiar with British institutions and values.”

For migrants to Britain from places like Nigeria and Ghana, some were skilled labourers who answered the call to fill job vacancies, but the majority were educated young people from affluent backgrounds who initially came to study at British universities before laying down roots.

They were later joined by migrants from Somalia and the Congo – groups described as ‘the first largish group’ of visible minorities who do not have strong colonial or postcolonial ties with Britain.

But as well as differences, the report highlights similarities.

Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities are seven times more likely to live in urban areas than their White counterparts, with Black communities clustered around cities including London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Over half of the UK’s black population, lives in London and in the West Midlands (Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry) where ethnic minorities account for over 40 per cent of the population.

Britons of Caribbean descent display the greatest geographical mobility than any other minority groups.

They are more likely to be Christian, ‘feel British’ and have a UK-centric identity compared to British Africans, 20 per cent of whom are Muslim and identity more strongly with their respective African identities.

It should come as no surprise then that Black Caribbeans have the highest rate of intermarriage with White Brits and almost half of Black Caribbean men have a partner from a different ethnicity.

Yet both groups, are more likely to work in the public sector.

However, this too is changing as the number of graduates from Black backgrounds increase, such as Cambridge educated PhD engineering student Ssegawa-Ssekintu Kiwanuka, who topped a list of Britain’s brightest Black graduates.

He discovered a way to use sugar cane to produce fuel as part of a placement in Haiti while still an undergraduate.

Data also shows that Indian, Chinese and African groups achieved greater educational success than other ethnic minorities and white British people.

With 40 per cent, Africans were singled out as the group with the highest proportion of degree-level qualifications.


By: Elizabeth Pears 



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