As you may have heard, a man with a knife slashing at people killed sixty-four-year-old American Darlene Horton and injured half a dozen others in London’s Russell Square on Wednesday evening. If learned, as of this writing his motive has not yet been made public. (“Mental health” issues have been cited by police.) As to a description of him circulating in British media, including on the BBC, ITV news’s Charlene White took issue with it on Twitter:
Via Wikipedia, one uncovers that Ms. White was born in London. That same source also states her parents were “Black Carribean.” Given her tweeted reference to Jamaica, I will assume for discussion’s sake that means they were born there and moved here to the United Kingdom.
If so, her parents’ Jamaican citizenship would likely entitle her to Jamaican citizenship, too. Indeed, she may well already have Jamaican citizenship in addition to her British citizenship by birth. Therefore, she is, yes, “descended” from Jamaica through her parents.
Now, to the knife attacker. We are told that he was born some 19 years ago (apparently) in Norway of Somali parents who had emigrated to Norway. Subsequently he was moved to the United Kingdom (at age five), but never obtained U.K. nationality.
Ms. White seems disturbed by media phraseology citing his “descent.” (I have seen “origin” used too; but if he was born in Norway “descent” is the better word given he himself did not “originate” in Somalia.) This, however, is VERY important in that context: although born in Norway he is probably entitled to claim Somalian citizenship also, or may well already have it, due to his parents’ origin. Therefore, “Norwegian national of Somali descent” is an entirely valid description of his national background.
Myself, I would expect to be described as an “American national residing in the United Kingdom.” If I were to become a British citizen (which I am contemplating), I could afterwards not unreasonably be described as a “British national of American origin.” After all, that is what I would be legally – entitled by my U.S. birth to keep my American citizenship as well (unless I formally choose to renounce it before a U.S. consular official).
If you’re still with me, another question also comes to mind: If Ms. White were asked to reject references to her “Jamaican descent” and label herself as only “you know…British,” would she prefer that? Presumably not.
With so many more people than ever moving around between countries, and more children than ever being born in second countries and growing up never having even seen the country of their parents’ origin and yet being entitled to, and even perhaps already holding, additional citizenship(s) by “descent,” describing nationality may well also be a far more layered and complex matter than ever before, too. To ignore that nationality in 2016 may no longer necessarily be just a hand me down result of someone having been the latest in a long line born from “13 generations” before who’d lived in that same place, is to willfully attempt to turn a blind eye to reality. Doing that in reporting is therefore to blatantly attempt to ignore facts.
Should media not have mentioned that knife wielder’s nationality (nationalities) at all? That’s solely a matter of opinion. But the facts are these: he, a foreign national who probably holds (or is entitled to) more than one foreign nationality, went on an attempted killing spree in a tourist-full area of central London and sadly succeeded in murdering another foreign national, an older woman.
Facts. Whether we like them or not, as John Adams said:
Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
One would assume a prominent journalist would care about respecting them and reporting them accurately. Technically speaking, of course.