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Letter: A shared vision on how to promote equality.

Dear Editor, - The Post's three day feature on 'multi-racial Birmingham' offered Birmingham an excellent opportunity to explore the city's past approaches to race equality. While many of the articles were "up-beat" about the city's successes, there was also a range of opposing views about equalities work in the city. Reading these articles one can't help posing the question - has the city largely failed to create a shared vision for how to promote equality?

While we could say there will never be consensus on what to do about equality and how to do it, as Britain's second city, and one which has been predicted significant demographic change for some time now, would it be too much to presume that we should be actively promoting discussion on the challenges and opportunities demographics present? Also should we be clearer about where we are trying to get to in relation to equality and the processes we use to get there?

Clearly, past historical approaches to equality were never tested in present modern day Birmingham. The sheer numbers of individuals, and the diversity of ethnicities means that we cannot simply regurgitate practices such as community involvement, faith initiatives, and ethnic based initiatives, without firstly considering the consequences and impact this will have in a city as diverse as Birmingham.

Although our city is brilliant at responding to the complexities of diversity - many of us would not live anywhere else -we must also recognise that the growth of the far right, coupled with persistent exclusion and poverty in some areas of the city, means that equality isn't equally shared and definitely not equally understood. This means that we can't gloss over the negative aspects of equalities work that people see on a day to day basis. We have to respond to peoples' lived experiences - whether this is the perception that some groups get more than others, or the reality of inequitable unemployment rates.

Ignoring persistent inequalities and ineffective equalities work in the inner and outer city can have massive implications for the city's future prospects. Birmingham's census shows that in 1991 black and minority ethnic groups were at least twice as likely to be unemployed. The picture had not changed significantly in 2001 (although the particular ethnic minority groups that experience most inequality have changed). History has a way of repeating itself and the disturbances in Lozells were testament to that fact. The same is true of outer city areas. Ignoring persistent inequalities in these mainly "white" areas has greatly increased the far right's political presence for example.

This is why it can be difficult to pat ourselves on the back and celebrate Birmingham as a successful race equality case study for the Home Office, or for the UK. Similarly, being "negative" about approaches to equality doesn't have to slow the momentum of work being done in the city. We can learn from the past and use this information to 're-think' approaches to inequality that have remained unchanged in the city for decades.

This will not involve changing the hundreds of organisations that work daily to make Birmingham a fairer and equal city. However, it will involve bringing those organisations together and working to develop a shared equality strategy for the city that as many people as possible can buy-in to. Reflecting on past approaches only gets us half way there. In today's Birmingham we are living in a unique environment, one that is more diverse (especially younger people) and more connected globally than ever before. We can use this new environment to innovate and test new approaches to equality.

How will we know if we are recommending the right solutions to problems of inequality that have remained persistent for decades? Repeating traditional approaches to equality has not got us there so far. Should we be looking more to the next generation to think about how to carve a future that is more equal for Birmingham residents? We are at a point in Birmingham's development where the opportunity to create a new and shared vision for equality is strong. To do that we will need to look and learn from others and to instil shared responsibility for taking it forward.

BIRMINGHAM RACE ACTION PARTNERSHIP

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Police in Lozells during the disturbances last year
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 12, 2006
Words:708
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