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Multi-culturalism hasn't failed, but there's work to do.

Byline: STEPHEN LAMBERT COLUMNIST

OVER THE past century minority ethnic groups have contributed greatly to the UK economy and have enriched our culture through cuisine, the arts, sport, media, music and style.

Britain has become a multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-cultural society. Yet for some on the radical right this hasn't been welcomed.

Yet what does multi-culturalism mean? A contested issue, even Tony Blair conceded that he didn't know what the term meant.

For Bhikhu Parekh, political theorist and Labour member of the House of Lords, each citizen should be valued along with cultural differences in society coupled with a robust attempt to stamp out racism.

Britain, he argued, should become a ''community of citizens'' at both a local and national level with an emphasis on dual cultural identities.

Although several cities across the country such as London, Newcastle, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester where different communities intermingle in a genuinely multi-cultural society, in other towns there remains mutual misunderstanding, suspicion and residential segregation.

The former PM David Cameron took the view that although the doctrine of multi-culturalism was well intentioned the focus should have been on integration. People, he said, needed a shared British identity.

To those who believe that multiculturalism has failed present the following arguments. Segregated communities are a feature of several Northern mill towns like Oldham, Bradford and Bury which ended in race riots in 2001.

The Cantle Report a year later noted that these towns appeared fragmented and polarised in terms of ethnicity. People were leading ''parallel lives'' which was mirrored in schooling, housing and in day-to-day encounters with others. As Cantle noted: ''Multi-culturalism was little more than a consenting form of apartheid.'' Cantle recommended the development of more ''cohesive communities which would heal divisions". But, in 2016, too many of our large towns have become ethnically segregated as migration has risen. This, together with a widening gap between rich and poor has undermined the sense that there is a concept as a common British way of life. A Government panel set up after the 2011 urban riots found that seven in 10 outbreaks of disorder took place in the bottom 10% of neighbourhoods classed as the least ''socially cohesive: an issue of class, but also one of ethnicity".

Others have pointed to the sharp rise in ''homegrown terrorism'' in the UK and the rapid growth of radical right-wing parties like Ukip.

Millions of deprived white working class voters from the council estates across the North backed Brexit: some driven by Ukip's racist message, others expressed genuine concerns over the impact of "uncontrolled immigration" and "free movement of labour". Yet this this needs to be put in a broader context. Some policy experts believe that that multi-culturalism hasn't failed: not in our major cities, which have undergone economic regeneration, civic renewal and a cultural renaissance in the last decade or so. There's no contradiction between multi-culturalism and integration. Bans on the Burqa, like that in France, are illiberal and help to promote extremism both right wing and religious in economically marginalised communities which leads to more separatism, not integration.

Race riots - rare in the UK and even terrorism, it's argued, is partly the result of enough multi-culturalism rather than too much.

But the argument runs that more citizenship education is needed in schools to explore diversity and difference.

All public bodies have a legal duty to challenge extremism and promote British values.

It's wrong to appease groups like Britain First or the French NF. With a strong anti-racist message, more could be done to educate people while at the same time government needs to listen to the concerns over migration.

In the North East all civic, faith and business leaders accept that community relations work well, are harmonious and based on mutual tolerance and respect. Newcastle is a safe city. The Muslim community is on record for condemning terrorism and supports the state's ''war on terror'' and challenging extremist groups like ISIS.

Residents mix with one another, enjoy the cultural diversity of foodstuffs, drink, music, art - and their children go to school together.

Although latent racism is a problem in some areas, hate crimes against minorities are low. The vast majority of Geordies are warm, kind and welcoming to people of different faiths, nationalities and people of colour.

Over two-thirds of young people today hold liberal values and are European in outlook. But issues outside our region around EU immigration in urban and ageing coastal towns need addressing by the ''political elite.'.

As Cantle warns, large-scale migration could undermine community cohesion where migrant groups and host communities lead separate rather than interconnected lives.

Government and civil society have a role to play. Communities undergoing rapid demographic and cultural change need more help such as investment in public services like GPs and homes in ''migration hot spots'.'.

New housing developments could shape urban neighbourhoods making it easier for people to foster closer ties with their neighbours. Once people meet, mix and get to know one another, mutual understanding and trust grows. This has happened in both Newcastle and Liverpool.

To bring about a more integrated nation in hundreds of large towns there's a pressing need to revive the notion of "active citizenship''. There's a route map to manage and merge "our parallel lives''. It just takes commitment, will and the money to make it happen.

n. ? Newcastle city councillor Stephen Lambert is director of Education4Democracy.

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There is a pressing need to revive the notion of 'active citizenship'
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 4, 2016
Words:911
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