Ethnic minorities in the British Army
March 19, 2007 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Advice needed on joining the British Army for ethnic minorities (Chinese in particular). Any servicemen on AskMe?

I'm considering enquiring about joining the British Army (officer or soldier, I haven't decided yet). I'm a commonwealth citizen of oriental descent, graduating from university this year (having lived here for most of my life). I love and owe this country a great deal, and this is one way I've been considering of paying it back.

My question is this: is there much room for a person of my ethnicity in the Army, or am I simply walking into the lion's den? I want to make it clear that I'm not talking about the usual sort of hazing or robust language. That stuff doesn't bother me in the least, especially if it's for the purpose of motivation (for example, I don't consider MP Patrick Mercer's remarks remotely inflammatory or controversial, let alone racist or worth losing your job over). Rather, I'm worried about serious physical abuse or bullying.

I'm not insinuating that the Army or the British in general are racist (I know they're not). But I do think that in every society certain ethnic groups are perceived as more threatening than others (not unfairly, I might add). I just want to make sure I'm not sticking my head into places I'm not wanted. If there are any MeFites who have served/are serving and can offer advice, I'd be incredibly grateful.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total)
Did time in the Canadian Reserves and worked with a large variety of ethnic groups and I never noticed it being an issue (mind you, this was in officer training). I think that the main thing is to pull your weight and not be a burden on your group.

Aside, I might be wrong on this but I remember someone telling me eons ago that Commonwealth citizens can't actually join the army but are allowed to join the Territorial Army. You might want to check on that.

Good luck.
posted by smcniven at 1:32 PM on March 19, 2007

While I am not in the army myself (so take my views as you will), you need to be prepared for the general ignorance a fair chunk of British people tend to have towards Chinese people. "Chink" is still used casually, especially amidst the white working classes who tend to populate the lower ranks (some of my very working class family members have taken that route). If you're prepared for that, because it's not necessarily going to be negative, just ignorant, then I would imagine it would be fine. Be glad you don't "look" Muslim.
posted by saturnine at 4:56 PM on March 19, 2007

You may find this website helpful - its one of the best ones for British military stuff. I would, with no personal expertise, say that the army can be an excellent career and historically has been one chosen by many people of ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK. Indeed your background could be of advantage if accompanied by desirable language skills - or even simply by not appearing to be the stereotypical picture of what the world expects a British soldier to look like. You certainly have nothing to lose by contacting your local army careers service and asking for them to arrange for you to visit a unit to see for yourself what life is like.
posted by prentiz at 5:16 PM on March 19, 2007

A few statistics:

Around 20% of personnel in the 1st Btn PoWRR are Commonwealth or overseas citizens. Around 6% of the overall strength of the British Army is made up of overseas citizens (not counting the Gurkhas - 9% if they're included). The first VC in more than 20 years was won by a West Indian soldier who came to the UK in 1999. It's unlikely that you would be the only non-British national in whatever unit you chose to join.

However, and without wanting to stray into political ground... IMO you should only consider joining up if a life and career in the Army really appeals to you personally. If your main motivation is paying back a debt of gratitude it may not be the best option. Good luck with whatever you decide.
posted by boosh at 5:32 PM on March 19, 2007

Disclaimer: I've had no experience of being in the British Army. But I'm British-Chinese.

But what you could do is find out where the nearest army base is, and where the soldiers tend to go for R&R afterwards. Walk in there by yourself or with one friend, spend an evening hanging out and see what happens.

My uneducated guess is that at worst, you'll get called lots of names, but nothing more. Drunken physical abuse is more likely to be dealt out to other minorities for some bizarre reason.

Personally, the one time I asked at a recruiting post, I got such an undercurrent of sneer I never bothered following it up. And I'm reasonably sure you could find better ways of giving back - volunteering on a local level, for instance?
posted by badlydubbedboy at 7:24 AM on March 20, 2007

I served in a TA unit in the UK, with at least one British-Chinese guy in it. Never a problem. It's not the most PC of workplaces, and you might be on the receiving end of what is usually called 'bad chat', but as for physical abuse etc? Unlikely past the 'beastings' of initial training, and that happens to everyone, and is 99.9% of the time not actual physical abuse, just lots of running til you puke etc.

I'd seriously consider going in as an officer if you have the required education and want to make a career out of the Army. It requires solid leadership skills and a pretty developed sense of self to be a good officer, but several of my friends who have commissioned are enjoying fantastic careers.

Bear in mind that with the current overstretch of the British Army, you will be deployed to an active warzone - it ain't the Seventies anymore where massive divisions sat in Germany waiting for a war that never happened. Many guys I know are on back to back tours.

On preview, seconding ARmy Rumour Service. I'm a member there and if you ask your question in the right forum (not the NAAFI!) you will get lots of great responses from serving soldiers. It's also a good place to hang out to get a picture of British Army mentality and pick up a few tip prior to starting.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:19 AM on March 20, 2007

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