Ethnonationalism: One of Wales' Biggest Threats

Photo by Peyton Wells on Unsplash.

There is a narrative that is often promoted in Wales that racism doesn’t exist; we are England’s more friendly neighbour. Although Wales is a country full of culture, history and picturesque views, it is undeniable that there are systemic issues regarding race and ethnicity. Denial of this allows these issues to continue within our communities. As Dr Bethan Harries states “This awkward truth must be acknowledged if the country is to make real progress in redressing racism and inequalities.”

A large challenge for the Welsh community stems from a continuous issue of failing to acknowledge the history that does not revolve around white Welsh people. Although the Senedd has made the teaching of Welsh black, Asian and ethnic minority histories obligatory in Welsh secondary schools, this is not something that comes into effect until the 2022 academic year.

Equally, it highlights until the next academic year the teaching of Welsh history has been almost entirely focused on white Welsh history. Speaking from experience, in secondary school, the history taught revolved around white Welsh culture and history such as the tragedies of the Welsh Not, Tryweryn and Aberfan.

It is undeniable that Welsh history is very much rooted in pain and tragedy but what the teaching in Welsh schools have failed to acknowledge to this point is the duplicitous nature of the Welsh identity and history.

Yes, Wales has seen tragedy, but it has also enacted horrendous acts upon others in its history. Wales and Welsh people actively partook in the transatlantic slave trade between the 17th and 19th centuries. Thomas Picton, brutally ‘governed’ Trinidad with extreme violence and cruelty, authorising the tortures of children, adopting a philosophy of “let them hate so long as they fear”. He is still commemorated in Carmarthen by the Picton monument to this day.

The sinister side of Welsh history not being taught and ignored at large in secondary schools until 2022 or discussed widely within Welsh communities has allowed the institutionalised racism we have to thrive and grow unchallenged. It's evident through failures of grand proportions of the South Wales Police. In July 2019, there was multiple instances of misconduct in investigating the murder of Christopher Kapeesa including the failure to interview a majority of the witnesses and to cordon off the scene for the two days of investigation. Despite CPS determining Kapessa was pushed into the river and there was a “realistic prospect of conviction of manslaughter”, they deemed it “not in the public interest to prosecute”. In January 2021, 24-year-old Mohamud Hassan died inexplicably and suddenly after being released from South Wales police custody, leading to Black Lives Matter protests in Cardiff.

As Siobhan McSweeney from Derry Girls once said in an interview with, “ If you have a country that doesn’t understand its past, who are they?”. The way we digest Welsh history has been constructed to adhere to the tears of the white Welsh middle class as being ‘marginalised’, whilst simultaneously failing to acknowledge Wales has also oppressed other cohorts.

Thus, amongst certain Welsh people, there is a warped sense of the Welsh cultural identity and what Welshness (Cymreictod) is. In secondary school, there were always discussions surrounding the idea of Welshness and it was often displayed as having to fill out a criterion such as being born in Wales, having Welsh parents speaking Welsh etc, to be able to consider yourself “truly Welsh”. It created a sense of hierarchy that some people were more ‘Welsh’ than others.

Failures in discussing non-white Welsh history and the subject of race, ethnicity and nationality and how they are all different and contribute to our identity as individuals have led to a breeding ground for ethnonationalism within our communities

Ethnonationalism is a type of nationalism where nationality is defined in terms of ethnicity. Its primary points are the belief that a nation has a common language, faith, shared heritage and shared ethnic background. Those who are not classified within this ethnic background could be referred to as “second-class citizens”.

Ethnonationalism can be seen in myriad ways within Welsh communities. It is elucidated with many in the Welsh independence movement stating that independence should be a singular conversation without regard to the institutional racism issues in Wales. It can be seen in the failures of Welsh Independence organisations such as YesCymru and Undod failing to launch anti-racism campaigns, despite issues of racism being experienced and enacted by their members. It’s also highlighted in the idea of racism being ‘something that doesn’t happen here, due to a long-standing false narrative of “non-tolerance and racism” in Wales which is further debated in ‘A Tolerant Nation?’.

The threat of ethnonationalism within Welsh communities is real. It is one of the biggest dangers within our community. It is a threat to the everyday lives of ethnic minorities who live in Wales and to the development of Welsh society. Equally, those who hope for independence must understand and acknowledge the systemic racism in Wales and seek to address it if they ever wish to achieve it Welsh Independence. An independent Wales that is not a state of equality and diversity is not one worth having. Ignoring the issues, we face as a country and a society only gives ethnonationalism the space to thrive. We must do better.