Second generation Britons faring better than previously assumed – interview with Emeritus Professor Anthony Heath (University of Oxford)

Anthony Heath, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Oxford, was invited to speak at the University of Turku in late March this year. His two lectures on the 19th of March explored the practical effects of multiculturalism and shed light on the situation of second generation immigrants and their integration in Britain. The lectures were based on two projects that examine the status of different ethnic minorities in Britain and their situation in comparison with the mainstream population.

2014-1-anthony-heathIn the opening of the second lecture, Professor Heath referred to negative statements by some politicians on the state of multiculturalism in Europe and its alleged failure. In contrast, the project results seem to suggest that the second generation in Britain is faring better than previously assumed, in terms of mastering English, attaining British citizenship and becoming socially integrated in mainstream society. Indeed, second generation Britons consider Britain their home, whereas the frame of reference for the first generation is, unsurprisingly, very much located in their country of origin.

However, explains Professor Heath, there is a “paradox of integration” concerning the second generation in Britain, who identify themselves as British, but still face exclusionary practices, such as discrimination and racism that position them as non-belonging to Britain: “The more you mix with the British people and identify with them, the more you become aware of the discrimination by authorities, including random searches and the unequal treatment that the second generation is aware of.”

Professor Heath also suggested that UK anti-discrimination legislation is insufficient to tackle discrimination as experienced by individuals, and legislation should take into account the experiences of discrimination at the collective level. “It is a kind of community feeling. So even if you are employed, you are aware that your contemporaries, your group is not getting a fair share of opportunities so there is a more general sense of exclusion.”

In the meantime, there is still a long way to go for the second generation to be considered part of the national community, says Professor Heath. In discussing the paradoxical term “second generation immigrant”, he points out that even in the choice of words concerning the second generation “there is a lot of implicit assumption of the second generation, that you are not one of us… There is this sense of holding people at an arm’s length, which the second generation is very much concerned about.” At the same time, Professor Heath emphasises that “there is diversity within diversity” and warns against the tendency to treat the second generation as homogeneous.

The central findings of the two projects seem to suggest that while members of the second generation in Britain are faring rather well in various sectors of life, they still face exclusionary practices in their everyday lives that impede on their identity formation and understandings of Britishness.

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