Tuesday, May 08, 2007


The Threat of Racial Aparthied in our Cities

Last night's BBC Panorama programme examined race relations in Blackburn, an award winning council area and constituency of Cabinet minister Jack Straw. To say it was worrying is an understatement. We have long complacently congratulated ourselves in this country on having avoided the worst aspects of inter-racial/religious conflict together with having a weak and marginalized BNP. But this focus on a mixed race town revealed that the tendency of immigrants from Pakistan and India(now 24% of the population) to settle in the poorer terraced areas had caused over time:

1. A geographical divide to emerge. The originally settled poorer area has expanded and has become separate from the white area and two almost entirely separate communities have resulted.

2. 'White Flight': as immigrants have expanded into surrounding areas whites have tended to move out to 'white' areas. It's easy to condemn this as racism but, as some of the departing white families explained: the character of their area had changed with English no longer the first language in the local school, with pubs closing and different food on sale in shops. It's easy to see why some whites felt 'overwhelmed' and felt the area no longer seemed like home.The single Asian interviewed who had moved into a white area told how he had visited his neighbours to introduce himself with gifts of chocolates but that very soon they were avoiding his eye when they met on the street.

3. Some schools even organized exchange visits so that 'white' schools could see what Asian schools were like and vice versa. One young man recalled that when in school he had loads of Asian friends but that once they reached their teens they tended to separate and go their own ways. Intermarriage is rare and regarded by whites as highly unlikely through the hostility of Asian families.

4. Whilst some time ago veil wearing young women were a rarity, they are now are so numerous they prompted Straw's recent controversial request that they not be worn in constituency surgery meetings.

As the BBC website article points out:

What differentiates the communities is not just skin colour but a more complex combination of race, religion, and language and culture, and these factors added together are a recipe for social separation.

So we see a situation has arisen in Blackburn where people live together, shop together and work together but do so in a way which subtly avoids any contact. There is no social mixing in houses which are separated into virtual ghettos for both whites and immigrants. And the inevitable consequence of this separation is suspicion, resentment and no little hostility. Blackburn was not involved in those 2001 race riots but, on this analysis, it wouldn't be surprising if it were in future. There are scores of similar towns with similar racial profiles where Muslim minorities-feeling discrimination and economic problems- cling together for identity and mutual support. The really worrying aspect of this tendency is that alienated young Muslims, living in this version of our own apartheid, represent pressure cooker copies of the conditions which gave birth to the 7/7 bombers.

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