‘National
identity is stronger when it is based on ethnic identity.’ Discuss.

 

Nationalism is thought to be a belief in an ‘imagined
community’ with shared culture, history, and common goals1. How this links to an ethnic identity may seem obvious
at first, since it is likely this ethnic identity has lived together for a long
period of time and hence have a shared history and culture. However, it is also
possible for other ethnicities to have either historically shared the culture
of another group or to assimilate into it upon arrival in the nation. The
question of how ethnic identity influences that of national identity seems to
be impossible to maintain a general rule on, since it experiences such
variation across all cultures and ethnic groups. This is mainly because members
of any national do not completely agree on the attributes used to define their
identity. Zubrzycki discusses tension in Poland between
those who prefer an “ethno-religious vision of the nation and a
Constitution based on traditional values” and those who prefer “a
civic national identity based on the political community of citizens.”2.

Furthermore, conceptions of nationalism are radically different both between
the West and post-colonial states, as well as between majority ethnic and
minority ethnic groups.

 

To
understand this question fully, we must first examine what is generally thought
to be the causes of the strength of national identity. Frederick Solt found
that the primary driver of nationalism was economic inequality, showing a clear
correlation between the two3. The second
most important factor in shaping national pride and emotional attachment to the
country (which has been cited by many as the most important factor) was that of
‘war guilt’, namely the ‘decades of antinationalist pressure’ which followed
the Second World War in Axis countries. Other factors which presented a strong
influence on both national pride and emotional attachment to the country were age,
the presence of international conflict, and whether the individual was married
or not. However, Solt’s results clearly showed that there was no correlation
between ethnic diversity and either national pride and emotional attachment to
one’s country. Both results yielded correlations that were within the margin of
error4. However, I
am critical of this study. To begin, it seems that ‘ethnic diversity’ is not a
perfect measure to understand whether ethnic identity strengthens national
identity. Countries with a large ethnic minority population may strengthen the
nationalism of the ethnic majority, which weakening that of the minority, thus
cancelling out the effect. Furthermore, it only examines 78 countries, many of
which are European, and this model seems not to be applicable to the rest of
the world. I contrasted this paper with Elliott Green’s paper examining how
ethnic and national pride shifted based on the leadership of Sub-Saharan
African nations. He argues that one of the key determinants of national
identification is whether or not the ethnic group that an individual belongs to
is in power. He gives the example of Uganda to show that, when the majority
ethnic group is in power, members of this group identify more with the nation,
but when it is not, members actually identify more with their ethnic group, to
the extent that the majority ethnic group being in power ‘adds on average 12%
to the percentage of people who identify with the nation’5. Obviously,
this shows a disconnect between the links of ethnic and national identity in
the West and Africa.

Nationalism in the West is very different to that of nationalism in states in
the more developing world. European countries have been evolving in their
statehood for thousands of years, enabling a stronger sense of civic
nationalism to overcome the ethnic nationalism we often see in newer
democracies. A clear example of this process took place in France as documented
extensively by Eugen Weber6, who explained
that economic growth, the extension of public services and military
conscription all led to the incorporation of ethno-linguistic minorities into
the French nation during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This is simply not
the case in countries such as Uganda, which have been fully independent for
only around 50 years. Furthermore, rather than ethno-linguistic minorities
being assimilated into the population over a period of hundreds of years, this
has been essentially impossible in many post-colonial states. Many of the
cultural cores of the national identity, such as language and religion, derive
not from the majority ethnic group, but instead from the former colonial ruler.

Not only do the majority of African countries have Christianity as their
majority religion, and a majority continue to use the language of their ex
colonial states as their official language, but the way that these countries’
borders have evolved over time has not been organically expanding and
assimilating the population over time such as in European history, but instead through
arbitrary colonial borders drawn in the last 150 years. In essence, this gives many
African countries a weak civic identity to be attached to, forcing them to
instead resort to ethnic nationalism. To continue the discussion of ethnicity
in post-colonial states, it is worth identifying that Salih and Markakis
connect ethnicity and nationalism by identifying ethnic identity as an
influence which has a greater salience in a state vacuum7,
which is far more likely to be the case in post-colonial states. When states
collapse or power distribution structures are unequal, conflict over resources
becomes a social conflict, meaning that when the state fails to meet the needs
of citizens, its power and ideology is discredited. Other power distribution
models might contend, such as religion or democratisation, but often ethnic
identity will take the states’ place as a power distribution model.

 

To
divert this essay away from purely African views of nationalism and ethnicity,
we can also focus on how the West has strong links between the two. The 2013/14
‘taking part’ survey that was done throughout the United Kingdom found that
ethnic minorities and white participants gave significantly different answers
to the question “What, if anything, makes you most proud of Britain?”8.

White people were almost twice as likely to cite British history, suggesting
more of a focus on the colonial past. However, ethnic minorities were much more
likely to cite more traditionally civic nationalist concepts such as the
British Monarchy, legal system, and education. This would imply that while
ethnic identity can influence nationalism, it does not ‘strengthen’ it as such,
but merely divert support for certain aspects of the national identity into
less civic nationalistic ideas. This discussion can be put into the context of
modern politics, with the rise of nationalist populism in the West. When
examining the voters of far right nationalist candidates, studies have
consistently found a strong correlation between support for these candidates
and levels of racial resentment. One paper found that voters’ levels of
racial resentment correlated much more closely with support for Donald Trump as
President in 2016 than other factors, such as economic dissatisfaction9.

Perhaps more significantly, another study found that if people who strongly
identified as white were told that ethnic minorities would outnumber white
people in 2042, they became more likely to support Trump10.

This would suggest that those with a strong connection to an ethnic identity
will strengthen their support for nationalistic candidates when they see their
ethnicity as being ‘under attack’, contributing to the wave of nationalism we
see in the West today.

 

Despite
the fact that the majority ethnic group may strengthen its national identity
based on ethnic identity, this does not seem to be the case for ethnic
minorities. De le Garza found that ‘Mexican-Americans who were strongly
attached to their ethnic heritage were no less nationalistic than Mexican-Americans
with weak ethnic attachments’11. Furthermore,
he proved that there was no correlation between the strength of this ethnic
identity and ‘core American values’ such as individualism12. We must
also consider sub-state nationalism, which while often discussed in the context
of ethnicity and its effect on nationalism, is very rarely considered when
discussing the views of ethnic minorities within these sub-states. Focusing
specifically on Scotland, there is a large body of research that has shown a
strong support for Scottish identity among ethnic minority groups.13
One study has said that ‘multiculturalism and sub-state nationalism have not
merely coexisted but actually interacted positively within Scotland’14. Kymlicka
argues that since ethnic minorities exhibit ‘the same mixture of
political-constitutional positions as people in Scotland more generally: that
is (British) unionist, devolutionist and secessionist’, they have adopted the
national identity of Scotland without need for an ethnic identity to compel
them to do so15. This was
especially the case with Pakistani immigrants, as they felt less of a
connection to a previous country, but instead to a religion (Islam), making
their national identity of Scottish easily adopted.16 This
is less the case in Wales, perhaps because of the importance of language and
culture in Welsh identity making it harder for ethnic minority immigrants to
properly connect to the national identity. However, this evidence shows that
ethnic minorities are not hampered in their national identity by their lack of being
part of the majority ethnic group.

 

To
return to Solt’s research, while I may have somewhat disagreed with the overall
conclusion of his paper, it is still valuable for understanding how ethnic
identity arises and influences national identity to begin with. We must realise
that national and ethnic identity is fundamentally interlinked, and nationalism
is not simply a dependent variable in this equation. Members of majority ethnic
groups who have strong nationalist pride can be ‘nudged’ into xenophobic and
racist views far more easily than most17,
reinforcing their ethnic identity. These leads Solt to state that ‘by leading
to the creation of more national pride, higher levels of inequality produce
environments favorable to those who would inflame ethnic animosities.’18  Furthermore, the very concepts of both
national and ethnic identity are too complex to simply draw a line between the
two. We have found that in the West, the majority ethnic group seems far more susceptible
to being pushed towards nationalism by ethnic identity, and that minority
ethnic groups seem to focus more on civil nationalism and sub-state nationalism
in certain environments. But these rules do not necessarily apply to every
Western country, and certainly don’t apply to post-colonial nations. What constitutes
nationalism and the reasons for its support are far too varied and complex
across states and sub-states to simply state that ethnic identity strengthens
it.

1 B. Anderson
1991 “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism”
Verso Books

2 G. Zubrzycki 2001) “”We,
the polish nation”: Ethnic and civic visions of nationhood in post-communist
constitutional debates” Theory and Society, 30(5), 629-668.

3 F. Solt
2011 “Diversionary Nationalism: Economic Inequality and the Formation of
National Pride.” The Journal of Politics 73(03): 821–830.

4 Ibid.

5 E. Green
2017 “Ethnicity, national identity and the state: Evidence from sub-Saharan
Africa” British Journal of Political Science

6 E. Weber
1976 “The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914”

7 M. Salih,
J. Markakis 1998 “Ethnicity and the State in Eastern Africa” The Nordic Africa
Institute

8 ” Taking Part: Statistical Releases –
GOV.UK “. 2017. Gov.Uk.

Accessed January 27 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/sat–2.

9 B. Schaffner M. MacWilliams., T. Nteta, 2017 “Explaining
White polarization in the 2016 vote for President: The sobering role of racism
and sexism” Paper presented at the conference on the U.S. elections of 2016:
Domestic and international aspects, Herzliya, Israel.

10 B. Major, A. Blodorn, G. Major Blascovich 2016 “The
threat of increasing diversity: Why many White Americans support Trump in the
2016 presidential election” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. Advance
online publication. Accessed January 27 2018 http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1368430216677304

11 R. de la
Garza, A. Falcon, F Garcia 1996 “Will the real Americans please stand up: Anglo
and Mexican-American support of core American political values” American
Journal of Political Science, 40, 335-351.

12 Ibid.

13 Hussain, A., and W. Miller. 2006. “Multicultural Nationalism:
Islamophobia, Anglophobia, and Devolution” Oxford: Oxford University Press.

14 Ibid.

15 W. Kymlicka, 2011. “Multicultural Citizenship
within Multination States.” Ethnicities 11 (3): 281–302. doi: 10.1177/1468796811407813

16 Ibid.

17 Q. Li, and M. Brewer. “What Does It Mean to Be an
American? Patriotism, Nationalism, and American Identity after 9/11.” Political Psychology 25, no. 5
(2004): 727-39.

18 F. Solt
2011 “Diversionary Nationalism: Economic Inequality and the Formation of
National Pride.” The Journal of Politics 73(03): 821–830.