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UCL Public Engagement Blog



Ethnic Health Inequity and Data Justice – A Conversation with Abdulrahman

By h.craig, on 10 May 2023

An image showing a poster with Discussion Guidelines handwritten on it. The guidelines are that we give proof of listening, we respect each other's ideas, we build, challenge, summarise, clarify and probe, we are prepared to change our mind, we invite others into the discussion and we try to reach a shared agreement.

This article has been written by Abdulrahman, a young person from Coram Young Citizens. Abdulrahman came from Syria and  has lived in the UK for 5 years. Young Citizens is Coram’s award winning programme for 16-25 year olds from migrant and refugee backgrounds who make a difference to the lives of other young people new to the UK through direct work, improving practice and policy change. Find out more at the Coram website.

Abdulrahman shared his reflections taking part in focus group discussions led by Joseph (Jo) Lam (Institute of Child Health website biography), as part of a UCL Beacon Bursary for Public Engagement supported project: Ethnic Health Inequity and Data Justice – A Conversation with Young People. The project focus on exploring how ethnicity is understood, experienced, asked and recorded for young people from refugees and migrant backgrounds.

My opinion on the group discussion.

I have attended two sessions led by Jo from UCL at Coram to talk about ethnicity. Ethnicity wasn’t my cup of tea, I have never had any thought about it or even believed that it is something worth spending time looking at it. However, after just 15 minutes of the first session, I realised that ethnicity is something extremely important and equally complex.

The main challenge was that all my colleagues (who I worked closely with for over a year) have always found a way to agree on something at the end of our discussions, but not this time. It appeared to me that this topic has divided the team into different groups such as skin colour, political opinion or even religious beliefs. None of my colleagues (including me) were willing admit that our opinion might be wrong, or we might not have enough evidence to proof that we are right.

Things I have learnt from the discussion.

I have learnt that ethnicity is a complex issue, and there is no solution that would be fitting in all contexts. When we are discussing ethnicity, it is important to consider a range of factors, including ethnic group, place of birth, migration status, family history, and cultural background. These factors can all impact an individual’s sense of identity and can help to provide a more understanding of the variety of experiences within any ethnic group.

Simultaneously, it is very critical to recognise that ethnicity is just one aspect of identity, and that individuals may identify with multiple ethnic or cultural groups. In addition, it is important to avoid making assumptions or stereotypes based on an individual’s ethnicity, and to be aware of the possibility of discrimination or prejudice based on these factors.

Recording data about ethnicity groups is essential for supporting diversity and inclusion, understanding health disparities, and monitoring discrimination. However, there is a need to conduct this confidential information with care and sensitivity.

My opinion on the topic.

As a refugee myself, I totally believe that ethnicity is something very important as it reflects my identity and helps me to integrate into my new home without losing my family history and my cultural background. Also being aware of ethnicity adds significant value to the job market given the role it plays in encouraging diversity, which can lead to increased creativity, improvement, and productivity. However, I also believe that it could be used as a weapon against me and my existence in this county. If we are living in a country where refugees, migrants and other minorities are not protected by law, ethnicity is the easiest and most direct way for racist people to discriminate against other people, just because they have these data available for them. Therefore, ethnicity data must be used only for its aimed reasons, such as promoting diversity and inclusion, assessing health disparities, or monitoring discrimination.

When we talk about ethnicity, we should understand that the data collectors and the participants must have a clear understanding of the importance, advantage, and disadvantages of this sensitive data. When researchers record ethnicity data, it is critical to use a respectful and inclusive approach. We have to take into consideration, that not everyone will understand what ethnicity is. If you come from a country like mine where the vast majority are Arabs, such a question does not exist, so it was extremely hard for me to understand and answer such a question.

Ethnicity should be recorded in a way that respects the mixture of individual experience and acknowledges the complexity of identity. This might involve allowing individuals to self-identify their ethnicity, rather than relying on external categories or classifications. They should not make any assumption based in the appearance or name of individuals and allow them to choose the terms that best reflect their ethnicity and culture, even if they disagree with them. One way to achieve this is to offer a selection of options that reflect the diversity of ethnic identities and cultural backgrounds. For example, as a replacement of limited set of check boxes of categories, a more comprehensive approach could include an open-ended text field where individuals can enter the terms, they use to describe their ethnicity or cultural background. Researchers can derive relevant meaning from their descriptions.

My conclusion.

In closing, ethnicity is a vital aspect of a person’s identity that can significantly influence their experiences and opportunities in society. Recording data about ethnicity groups is essential to encourage diversity and inclusion, understanding health disparities, and monitoring discrimination. On the other hand, it is essential to handle this sensitive information with care and sensitivity. By using a respectful and inclusive approach to recording ethnicity data, we can create fairer and more inclusive societies. Safeguards must be put in place to protect individuals’ privacy and prevent misuse of this sensitive information.

If you would like to discuss this blog please contact Jo Lam on his IRIS website profile or Email Address (opens in new window.) 

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