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Report: “Race and Difference in the 21st Century” (14/01/2010 meetup)

Christina W.
user 3986671
London, GB
Post #: 12
London is often cited as the most ethnically diverse city in the world, priding itself as a place where every ethnic community is encouraged to retain their own identity. But for some ethnic diversity can also be a source of tensions leading to a social breakdown. As this meetup asked, can we all be different and all live together?

By: Ingrid Ots, 21st C/N Reporter

“The scale of migration changed the way we perceive our identity”, says Michael Keith, a former councilor in Tower Hamlets, the most ethnically diverse area in London. “We do increasingly think globally and act locally. If there is a bond between citizenship and identity, it plays out on many levels and we tend to have multiple layers of self”.

Michael, whose current work develops projects on the dynamics of urbanism, the study of cultural difference and the impact of migration on structures and processes of governance, is keen that we should adopt “the ethics of hospitality” recognising the importance of belonging to a particular place but also understanding the difficulties that new arrivals face in their adopted communities.

“To me, the debate about multiculturalism is a debate about civilising globalisation. People are moving around in great numbers and they have to think differently about their identities and communities”, said Afua Hirsch, the Guardian newspaper’s legal affairs correspondent.

The journalist, who has mixed Ghanaian and German heritage, points out that the loss of identity is often a “sinister” aspect of globalisation and an issue that Western governments fail to address. But equally, the acute sense of otherness can become more important in a multicultural society. Afua cites the example of a young Kurdish woman who grew up in Australia where she felt like “kind of Australian, kind of other”. It is only when she moved to Iraq she felt “profound sense of national empathy” and “a magical bond” with fellow Kurds. “It is the matter often overlooked but indigenous white communities also have different sense of cultural identity”, said the journalist.

Afua said that nowadays there was a wider debate in the media about multiculturalism than before. In 1993 there was only one story in The Guardian that mentioned it - it was about pagan metal, a Celtic Viking-inspired type of death metal.
According to the newspaper website, in the last five years there were around 200 stories discussing the issue, adds Afua, including inflammatory comments by a former Today editor Rod Liddle who argued that the black community has given Britain “rap music, goat curry and a far more vibrant and diverse understanding of cultures which were once alien to us” in return for the higher rates of crime.

Zubaida Haque, a government official who undertook extensive research of community cohesion in the UK said, that the key issue is how to manage the host communities’ treatment of and reactions to new migrants. “I think it is where this country really failed, we haven’t dealt with the reactions of existing communities, we haven’t thought how we can help them to manage new migrants coming in. A lot of anxieties are based on mis-perceptions, with housing being the perfect example”, said Zubaida. “In my research I’ve actually asked the question – what works for facilitating social integration? Having looked at all the evidence, I came across four factors. One was language support classes, another was facilitating exchange about and among new arrivals, third was changing attitudes of the public and media and the forth was making use of mentoring and volunteering”.

The meetup was sponsored by Runnymede, a research organisation that focuses on equality and justice and promotes the idea of multi-ethnic society.
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