The ethnic minority population of the United Kingdom
The ethnic minority population of the United Kingdom has increased at a tremendous rate since the 1950’s, when most ethnic minority immigrants came to the UK as part of a replacement labour force, which was urgently needed following the loss of a large proportion of the nations labour force during the war. Ethnic minorities occupied the less skilled, the dirtiest and the lowest paid jobs. The flexible and cheap labour which black immigrants supplied to the UK was an essential component of the moderate but sustained expansion of the UK economy in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.
The majority of ethnic minority immigrants housing and their place of employment were located in inner city areas, in the poorest and most run-down areas of cities throughout the UK. Bradford was a city which was experiencing economic prosperity during the post-war period, and its textile industry was amongst the most important in the world. Bradford’s textile industry was the common thread binding the white and Asian working class into a single social fabric. But with its collapse, each community was forced to turn inwards on to itself.
The depressed inner-city areas, lined with old ‘two-up-two-down’ terraced houses which had been built for mill-worker families, were abandoned by those whites that could afford to move out to the suburbs. Those that could not afford to buy themselves out took advantage of discriminatory council housing policies which allocated whites to new housing estates cut off from Asian areas. Out of Bradford’s large stock of council housing, just 2% had been allocated to Asians.
In Oldham, the local authority was found guilty of operating a segregationist housing policy following a Commission for Racial Equality investigation in the early 1990s. Those Asians that did get council accommodation on predominantly white estates soon found their homes targeted, bricks thrown through windows, sometimes petrol and a lighted match through the door. The fear of racial harassment meant that most Asians sought the safety of their own areas, in spite of the overcrowding, the damp and dingy houses and the claustrophobia of a community penned in.
With white citizens leaving these areas, property prices were kept low, giving further encouragement to Asians to seek to buy their own cheap homes in these areas. It was ‘white flight’ backed by the local state. ‘The geography of the balkanised northern towns became a chessboard of mutually exclusive areas. ‘ (Ratcliffe, 2001) A generation of whites and Asians was now growing up in Bradford whose only contact with each other was through uncertain glances on the street or through the pages of local newspapers. Mutual distrust festered.
The local press, drawing on ‘dubious police statistics’ (Wastell, 2001) did their bit to promote the idea that young Asians were thugs hell-bent on attacking whites at random. The regular racist violence against Asians was marginalised, while Asian crime on whites was sensationalised and misinterpreted as racially motivated. The segregation of communities, the roots of which lay in institutional racism, came to be perceived as ‘self-segregation’ – the attempt by Asians to create their own exclusive areas or ‘no-go areas’ because they did not want to mix with whites.
It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. By the 1990s, a new generation of young Asians was coming of age in the northern towns, born and bred in Britain and unwilling to accept the second-class status foisted on their elders. When racists came to their streets looking for a fight, they would meet violence with violence. With the continuing failure of the police to tackle racist gangs, violent confrontations between groups of whites and Asians became more common.
Inevitably when the police did arrive to break up a mi?? li??e, it was the young Asians who would bear the brunt of police heavy-handedness. The result was that black communities became fragmented, horizontally by ethnicity, vertically by class. Different ethnic groups were pressed into competing for grants for their areas. The poor and the still poorer fought over the scraps of the paltry regeneration monies that the government made available to keep them quiet. Money that did come in was spent, after empty ‘community consultation exercises’, on projects that brought little benefit, particularly to the increasingly marginalised youths.
Worst of all, the problem of racism came to be redefined in terms of ethnic recognition so that to tackle racism was to fund an ethnic project, any ethnic project, no matter how dubious. This was the setting for the Bradford riots: communities divided by race and racism and communities spatially segregated from the white population of Bradford. During 9-11 July 2001 the Asian youths trapped in this cycle of poverty and suffering from low aspirations, took to the streets of the city and used violence as a means of getting themselves and their calls for more opportunities recognised.
The riots in Bradford, and throughout the north of England were all based on one common theme: race and racism. The spatially segregated and socially excluded Asian communities were experiencing an overtly racist BNP campaign on their own doorsteps at the time and this proved the final push which was needed for the violence to erupt. The possibility that racism had now contributed to the riots was not a view that was aired.
Just as Margaret Thatcher had wanted to see the riots under her regime described only as ‘outbreaks of criminality’, not as the fractures produced by her own political programme, Tony Blair spoke of ‘thuggery’ and refused to look beyond a narrow law-and-orderism, refusing to see in the riots the reflection of his own failed ambitions to tackle ‘social exclusion’. The popular press first blamed ‘outside agitators’, then blamed the community leaders who had failed in their allotted role: to control ‘their people’.
Then it was the inherent separatism of Islamic culture that was to blame – these people did not want to integrate; they were ‘self-segregating’. A people that had been systematically cut off, shunned, dispossessed and left to rot, was now blamed for refusing to mix. There was talk of ‘forced integration’, perhaps a return to bussing Asian schoolchildren into white areas, the hated system used in the 1960s when fears grew that too many Asians were attending the same Southall schools. There was talk of new restrictions on immigration involving English-language tests.
The far-Right British National Party was the only beneficiary from this cacophony of disdain. It distributed leaflets around Britain calling for a boycott of Asian businesses. A generation of Asians, discarded for their class, excluded for their race, stigmatised for their religion, ghettoised and forgotten, it has found its voice – but it is yet to be heard. Literature Review The impact of ethnic minority communities being spatially segregated and deprived and the effects it has on community relations and social harmony is a well-researched area within the human geography and the social sciences as a whole.
While there has been significant amounts of literature concerning ethnic segregation and deprivation in the US by academics such as Massey (1993), Duncan (1957) and the classic ‘Chicago School’ research and looking at the distribution and deprivations of the US black population, the volume of work conducted on the subject in the UK is not as substantial. Furthermore, detailed literature investigating segregation and deprivation as an influencing factor in ‘race riots’ is sparse, and although many post-riot reports have called for detailed investigations into the effects they may have, these demands have rarely been met with urgency.
However, in the aftermath of the Bradford riots the Government commissioned a report into the riots conducted by the Community Cohesion Review Team, and headed by Ted Cantle. The Cantle Report (2001) investigated all aspects of ethnic minority life in Bradford and endeavoured to discover why levels of racial tension are so high in the city, and how a lack of ‘community cohesion’ helped contribute to the causes of the rioting.
The Report, which sets out 67 recommendations in an effort to ‘ensure that structural reform takes place and a cohesive community is built’, was hard-hitting and highly critical of a number of political leaders in the city for failing to show ‘courage and leadership’ when it was most needed. Cantle argued that Bradford’s problems stem from the multi-faceted separation where ‘geographic, educational, cultural and religious divisions reinforce each other to the extent where there is little or no contact with other communities.
‘ He argues that this separation allows ignorance about each community to develop fear, which an independent report by Lord Ousley conducted on behalf of the ‘Bradford Vision’ described as the sense of ‘being on the edge of a knife whilst living in Bradford’ (Ousley, 2001). Cantle argues that although some ethnic minorities choose to live within their own communities, it is more often the case that minorities are forced to live in certain areas due to the real constraints imposed by the deprivations and disadvantages faced by some groups.
Although Dahya (1974) disputes this claim and argues that Pakistani segregation is a preferred, not an enforced, strategy and suggests that ‘chain-migration by village and family, the desire to maximise savings, shared languages and religion, culinary needs and so forth are a huge force in promoting the clustering of Pakistanis. ‘ Cantle suggests that those choices constrained by negative factors such as poverty and from threats of violence and intimidation, could mean that some communities are frustrated and resentful by being concentrated in areas with the worst housing conditions and the highest levels of deprivation.
In real terms, they do not have equal access to better areas. The most important aspect of the Cantle report was the statement that said people in Britain were leading “parallel” and “polarised” lives where people from different backgrounds did not mix, and warned that ‘segregation, albeit self-segregation, is an unacceptable basis for a harmonious community and it will lead to more serious problems if it is not tackled.
‘ The Community Cohesion Review Team recognised that some communities felt particularly disadvantaged and argued that the ‘lack of hope and the frustration borne out of the poverty and deprivation all around them, meant that disaffection would grow. ‘ The recommendations made by the Cantle report includes following which provides the foundations for my own research: ‘A very frank and honest analysis of the nature of the separation and poverty of the Pakistani communities and how this has influenced racial tensions should be undertaken at a local level’ (Cantle, 2001).