What kind of Whitening? Predictors of ethnic group change for Mixed people in the United Kingdom

Mok, T.M. (2019) New Zealand Population Conference, Wellington, New Zealand, 21 June 2019 [ONS LS]

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Abstract:

Why do people classified as Mixed/multiracial in the UK so often change their reported ethnic group, including in the Census? For the US multiracial movement, the act of choosing between different ethnic options has been framed as an aspirational act of agency (Root, 1994). Change in ethnic choices over time has also been framed more pejoratively as fluctuation or ‘instability’, implying an unsettled or insecure identity (Carter, Hayward, Blakely, & Shaw, 2009; Simpson, Jivraj, & Warren, 2014). How free are these choices, and are they independent from family circumstance, social hierarchy and racialization? There is little large-scale quantitative research into reasons for reported ethnic group change, and none in the UK context. What little there is, is often unable to control for a full range of structural predictors, nor for change in socioeconomic or household circumstances. This paper exploits repeated measures of ethnic group in large-scale, nationally representative longitudinal data in the Office for National Statistics’ Longitudinal Study (ONS LS). The ONS LS is a 1% sample of the Census for England and Wales. I identify the predictors of change in ethnic group identification among those self-categorising themselves as ‘Mixed’ at one or more time points, including baseline cross-sectional socioeconomic circumstances, and change in those circumstances. This allows us to explore the extent to which change appears to be ‘free’ and independent of structural and contextual social factors (and thus would appear to be random kinds of change), or alternatively is associated with personal instability, or with changes in social status according to theories of racialized social hierarchies. Analysis finds that higher status at baseline is associated with more ethnic/racial stability, not with aspirational change. However, decline in individual socioeconomic status is associated with moving out of Mixed/multiracial categories and towards White categories. Findings suggest that Mixed identification may reflect socioeconomic and cultural security; while changes towards Whiteness associated with insecurity may be a way of seeking safety within identities seen as more socially powerful.

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Output from project: 1000892

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