Some people would argue that this in turn promotes multiculturism, because it gives people the option of being “Asian British” or “Black British” meaning that they are ‘officially’ accepted as being British even though they, or their ancestors, may have been born in, for example, India or Africa. However others argue that it is still very much segregating groups by the colour of their skin, or the country their distant ancestors were born – a place that they might not even associate themselves with.
After Riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford, it was claimed that infact the ethnic minorities, especially Pakistanis and Bangladeshis (who were the most segregated groups), were ‘self-segregating’ and in fact wanted to be separate from the rest of society and have their own separate communities without ‘white people’ trying to destroy their culture. Official reports on riots such as Ouseley, Cantle and Denham in 2001 stated that segregation was a long-term cause of disorder.
People began to argue that the issue of racism is no longer about race it was far more about mixing between the races, and it is this which is preventing Britain from developing into the multicultural society it is trying to become. They suggested that different ethnicity’s exist in Britain with people ‘dipping’ into each other’s cultures when they find an aspect they like. Segregation is seen as the major obstacle and greater interaction is required between the different ethnic groups.
There are many other reasons why people argue that Britain is not a multicultural society. Seaford, for instance, takes a critical view of the structure of the primary education curriculum, in that it “reveals an essentially Anglo-centric view of the British nation” by concentrating solely on Britain in historical studies with little reference to the important role of the overseas empire in shaping Britain’s history, thus preventing ethnic minorities to feel a “common ownership of the nation.” (Seaford, 2001 pp108.) Commenting on the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, she states that this must change, for “The central idea in the Commission’s report is that we should develop as a community and of communities.” (Seaford, 2001 pp110).
The Human Rights Act so far has enabled girls to wear Islamic veils at school, yet the issue of permitting polygamous marriages has been rejected. Meanwhile, conflict between minority rights and universal human rights appear to glimmer on the horizon. For example, how to provide fair treatment of workers in spite of religious holidays remains in the balance. It seems that Labour under Blair has taken a more positive response to multiculturalism and cultural diversity compared to their Conservative predecessors.
Part of this is the fallout from the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, in which the police, amongst other public bodies, was deemed “institutionally racist”(archive.official-documents.co.uk); this has had the effect of forcing issues of racism very much into the public sphere. This is highlighted by examples from Britain’s signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) in which the EU formally pledged to fight “racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism” (historiasiglo20.org) to the adoption of the Human Rights Act (1998), fervently abhorred by the Conservatives for enabling legal protection over fair and just treatment of ethnic minorities.
What is clear is that the practicalities of mainstreaming race have experienced definite obstacles and limits. It seems that, whilst popular to soundbite, in rhetoric the merit of multiculturalism and ethnic diversity, the actual measures in tackling certain inequalities appear either to be halfway-efforts or to not have reached political circles. In comparison to gender, racial mainstreaming is yet to be fully accepted by all as necessary in today’s politics. For instance, whilst all-female shortlists for general elections, particularly popular between the top two parties, have been put into place on occasion to increase the number of women MPs, we have seen no proposals to do the same with ethnic minority candidates. This is to contradict, or certainly in the least not to follow, the findings of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain which “suggests that to catch up, 15 per cent of all appointments to the second chamber should be of Asian and black peers.” (Seaford, 2001, pp.111)
Regarding welfare needs, it is undeniable that these are very different to that of non-ethnic minorities. For example, “among African-Caribbean’s children are twice as likely to be in lone-parent families, and Caribbean mothers’ rates of labour-market participation are the highest of all” but despite this the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain’s Report “makes no recommendations as to how childcare, the operation of the child support system or the plethora of new initiatives could be attuned to meet their needs.” (Seaford, 2001, pp.111) Meanwhile we are told that; “Pakistani and Bangladeshi families suffer a higher incidence of poverty than any other group in Britain (including pensioners) and 88 per cent of those below half average earnings are in large families (with four or more children)” (Seaford, 2001, pp.111)
Yet government plans to increase total spending across the ‘board’ ignores the real problems at hand. Helen Seaford puts faith on the French model, in which “child benefit and income support rates for the fourth and subsequent children should be at higher rates”. (Seaford, 2001, pp.112) This targeted approach could focus resources where they are needed and do far more to alleviate poverty than across-the-board rise in child benefit. With regard to housing, Seaford again criticises the way government has been and continues to deal with racial inequalities. For instance;
“central government capital finance allocations are given on a per household basis rather than according to household numbers. As a result, locals authorities and housing associations are more likely to spend upon building homes for less people, consequently indirectly discriminating against larger families, common amongst Irish, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities”. (Seaford, 2001, pp.112)
In conclusion, I believe that to some extents Britain has achieved its aim of becoming a multicultural society, through the introduction of new laws and regulations the role of educating people through popular culture, developments in British landscape etc. However I also believe that these developments can explain the segregation of different ethnic groups, whilst Britain is doing its best to ‘include’ people from different cultures, it is ultimately labelling them as ‘different’. The issues of health, education, employment and housing are also very important when considering whether or not Britain is a multicultural society and from the evidence I have looked at I can say that ethnic minorities are still facing disadvantages which ‘white british’ people don’t. Therefore It would be unfair to say that Britain is not a totally multicultural society, although that’s not to say it never will be.
Back, L (2002) New Labour’s White Heart: Politics, Multiculturism and the Return of Assimilation
Political Quarterly, Volume 73 (4) pp.445-454
Gilroy, P (1993) Small acts: thoughts on the politics of black cultures London: Serpent’s Tail
Parekh, B (2000) The Parekh Report: The future of multi-ethnic Britain