A recent report co-authored by Professor Ted Cantle and Professor Eric Kaufmann contained dire warnings on Britain’s increasing ethnic segregation. The report found that white indigenous communities are moving out of Britain’s urban areas in large numbers and are being replaced by minority ethnic communities. The result is an increasing ethnic polarisation in some parts of the country.
The reduction in the white indigenous population has been significant between 2001 and 2011 in some areas, for example – from 65.6% to 53.1% in Birmingham, 58.3% to 34.5% in Slough 60.5% to 45.1% in Leicester. During the same period, around 62,000 white British Londoners left the city with the majority moving to areas with a higher concentration of white British citizens.
Professor Cantle who authored an influential report in the aftermath of the summer 2001 riots in towns and cities across northern England coined the term “Community Cohesion”. He unearthed a disappointing reality behind the disturbances that was caused predominantly by Asian Pakistani and Bangladeshi youth in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham. Many people in some of the areas, according to the report, were living “parallel lives” that “often do not seem to touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote any meaningful interchanges.” He recorded evidence from an Asian man who candidly said ‘when I leave this meeting with you I will go home and not see another white face until I come back here next week’. Similarly, a young man from a white council estate said ‘I never met anyone on this estate who wasn’t like us from around here.’
Britain has suffered a number of race riots in recent decades that involved most black youth. The 1958 Notting Hill disturbances were mainly with West Indian immigrants. But the 1981 Brixton riots created massive headlines on race, inequality and segregation. The Scarman report on the Brixton riots, published on 25 November 1981, highlighted the problems of racial disadvantage and inner city decline; Lord Scarman pressed for urgent action to end the “endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society”.
Although the situation in Britain is much better than in some European countries, ethnic segregation has remained a challenging issue since the first wave of immigration in the 1950s. In 2005 the then Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) chairman, Trevor Phillips, made remarks that Britain was “sleepwalking“ into racial and religious segregation; some criticised him for talking down the achievement Britain had made over the decades.
The 2011 England riots in August that unleashed looting, arson and violence in some parts of England created alarm in a country that was preparing for the Olympics and Paralympics Games just the following year. Once again, the issue of social inequality and segregation came into picture.
Segregation of communities is a result of many factors such as prejudice, intolerance and discrimination of the ‘other’ due to the lack of contact and interaction across social and cultural boundaries. The situation seems to be worse in the United States, despite making the history of electing a first black president. A movement, “Black Lives Matter“, was launched in 2013 with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media to campaign against racial profiling, systemic racism, police brutality and racial inequality in the US criminal justice system. Such is the momentum of the campaign that it has spread across the Atlantic onto British shores too.
The overall community relationship in Britain is mixed. In many places, people feel more comfortable in living near those of a different ethnicity or culture than ever before. But it is also true that some neighbourhoods and schools in some inner city areas are overwhelmingly mono-ethnic or mono-cultural. There may be reasons for first generation immigrants to stay together for internal support or close attachment. But more needs to be done to promote interaction and positive integration. It can only happen when indigenous or settled communities are open-hearted and new communities rise above fear.
Post-Brexit Britain has seen anti-immigrant hate crime and racial violence in some areas; this has highlighted insecurity within minority and immigrant communities. Political leadership has to tackle this robustly, before this starts reversing the positive achievement.
Globalisation has brought people from all corners of the world to Britain for better education and economic prospects as well to give many people safe haven from persecution in their own countries. The free movement of people brings diverse ideas as well as religious or cultural values. With new people and new ideas the fear factor or ignorance of one another can exacerbate prejudice and bigotry giving rise to parallel lives.
National and local governments as well as people in the civil society have a vital role to play against intolerance and racism. School education, media and sports can significantly improve the culture of tolerance, respect, good neighbourliness and fellow-feeling. Through improved religious and cultural literacy fear of one another can be reduced.
The London 2012 proved a wild success that brought Britain’s communities together. We can do this again and tackle ethnic segregation head on. What we need is to build on our success and enhance our social capital and social mobility through greater inclusion of all citizens in the socio-economic and political life.
This article was originally submitted to Huffington Post.