From The Economist

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Armed forces

Soldier white

Mar 27th 2003

From The Economist print edition

Britain’s armed forces are solidly white. That’s a problem for them

BRITISH and American troops may be fighting shoulder to shoulder in Iraq, but it’s easy to tell them apart. In pictures from the Gulf, our boys stick out for two reasons: they don’t wear sunglasses, and they are nearly all white.

Fewer than 2% of British servicemen and women are members of ethnic minority groups, compared with 9% of the population as a whole and 37% of the American armed forces. The British army is more diverse than the navy or the air force (both around 1% non-white), but that does not make it any more representative of British society, since many of those black and Asian soldiers are foreigners. This year, for instance, the force recruited 380 Jamaicans, 438 Fijians—and just 344 non-white Britons.

There is no reason why the armed forces ought to mirror the civilian population—as the police, for example, should. But the services will have to do better at minority recruitment if they want to keep their strength up. Competition from civilian employers is fierce at the moment, and the northern industrial towns that traditionally supplied men are in decline. As their populations fall, so the recruitment pool shrinks. For two out of the last three years, the army has fallen short of its recruitment targets.

The forces are now trying to bring in more non-white Brits, but they are up against some imposing obstacles. Only six years ago, the Commission for Racial Equality uncovered evidence of deeply-rooted racism in the army—and all the services subsequently signed up to a plan to improve the way they dealt with non-whites. Although things have got better since then, the military still struggles to convince ethnic minorities that its much-vaunted history and traditions do not extend to racial purity.

The whiteness of the military is in part just a numbers problem. As Chris Myant of the Commission for Racial Equality says, “if unemployed black men from Tottenham as well as unemployed white men from Salisbury thought of joining the army, they wouldn’t have a recruiting problem.” But it is also a matter of skills shortages. As the services become more high-tech, their need for recruits with mathematical and computer skills is rising. The army tends to recruit from the lower echelons of society; and poor ethnic-minority youngsters tend to be better-educated than whites in the same social group.

The armed forces have changed in other ways, too. They now spend much of their time on peacekeeping missions, where a premium is placed on tact and sensitivity. Even when fighting, soldiers are expected to make judgments about people that go beyond appearances. In Iraq, British soldiers are trying to spot the difference between civilians, reluctant soldiers, and diehard loyalists (who may be dressed as civilians); they are not just going after people with moustaches. A military that can cope with a bit of diversity in its own ranks is likely to be better at this sort of thing.

9 Comments

  1. I wonder why poor minority youths are more likely to be educated than their white counterparts. I thought that education was denied to persons of color to keep the white oppressors in power.

  2. I would be wary about generalising on ‘ethnic minorities’ in the British context, as they are very diverse. The British Education Department recently for the first time released data on the ethnic breakdown of performance in the GCSE examination (taken by nearly all children at age 16). The rank order was: Chinese, Indian, White, Bangladeshi, Black African, Pakistani, Black Caribbean. Performance by the top groups was about twice as good as the lowest.

    The Economist may be right about ‘ethnic minorities’ being better educated than whites, at a given social level, but there are numerous statistical and conceptual booby traps in such comparisons. For example, a first-generation immigrant may have a humble and low-paid job, but come from a relatively well-educated background in their country of origin. Their kids often do very well at school, and go on to become doctors, accountants, etc., due to a combination of good genes and parental encouragement/pressure. US readers can no doubt think of parallels!

  3. Economist:
    “…and the northern industrial towns that traditionally supplied men are in decline. As their populations fall, so the recruitment pool shrinks. For two out of the last three years, the army has fallen short of its recruitment targets.”

    Yet another manifestation of global demographic trends at work on the local level.

    “The army tends to recruit from the lower echelons of society; and poor ethnic-minority youngsters tend to be better-educated than whites in the same social group.”

    More than likely, the Economist is simply not separating the distinct ethnicities out like David just did. So, the real question is why (presumably) are Black African and Black Carribean people not signing up for the army in more numbers?

    If Burbudge is right about the ethnic ‘pecking order’ concerning education, why are Pakistanis doing relatively poorly? In this country, by anecdotal experience, do much better. Besides just the usual supects of caste, maybe there are environmental reasons too. As I understand it, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis are assimmilating less well than Indians in England.

  4. I like the Economist,but like the WSJ,they signed onto the economic transnational bandwagon quite a while back,and that wagon carries a lot of baggage.Remember this when they start talking about racial compositions here or elsewhere.

  5. brown ppl in the UK are segmented. the most well educated and affluent tend to be “refugees” from the east african states of gujarati origin that are very fluent in english when they came to the UK. bangladeshis and pakistanis from mirpur (punjabis mostly) are at the bottom of the heap because they came specifically to work in the mill towns of the north. i would suspect that fundamentalist islam has a stronger influence on pakistanis than bangladeshis partially because they are more assimilated (ergo, resentfull) and it is a more powerful influence in their homeland.

    the indians to compare the pakistanis and bangladeshis with is probably the sikh community, which is rather large. the gujarati mercentile caste is totally different in the values that they inculcate in their children.

    richard lynn asserted that one reason bangaldeshi and pakistanis did poorly in IQ tests compared to indians is that they were far less assimilated and tended to be new immigrants. that might be part of it, but i think it is important to take east african indians out of the equation, as they are self-selected twice over….

  6. One must also remember that the article mentioned that “poor ethnic-minority youngsters tend to be better-educated than whites in the same social group,” and thus was only concerned with the GCSE scores of poor white students, whereas the ranking above included all white students, including those from the upper and middle classes.

    I find the above statement very believable: most non-white people in Britain are recent immigrants, and thus automatically selected for people with ambition, for themselves and their children. In my own country, I know that not only does the act of immigration self-selecting, but the government of Canada also has such high requirements for immigration that most immigrants are more highly educated than the average Canadian.

    I would be interested in knowing more about ethnicity, class and academic achievement in Britain, Canada or the US, if anyone has links to share.

  7. JB

    Here’s an excellent link relating the performance of various ethnic groups in the United States, with a focus on Asian Americans in particular – Arthur Hu’s index of diversity: http://www.arthurhu.com/index/overrep.htm

    From Hu’s site:
    Comparing Asians vs Jews vs Chinese vs. Indians:
    If we set Jewish representation at 1.0, the Chinese are better in some numbers, but only the Asian Indians are consistently better in almost every category.

    Also, take note of this statement:
    * Indians are better in every comparison for which there is a statistic.

    A testament to how selective immigration can reap innumerable gains for the host society.

  8. I would be interested in knowing more about ethnicity, class and academic achievement in Britain, Canada or the US, if anyone has links to share.

    Educational Achievement of Canadian Ethnic Groups

  9. From Educational Achievement of Canadian Ethnic Groups care of Dienekes-

    I am really surprised Filipinos seem to be so educated in Canada.

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