Abstract and Keywords
This chapter draws together the book's arguments, discusses why the myths are so persistent, questions what may motivate those who maintain and promote the myths, and suggests alternative ways of thinking about race and migration. It looks at the claims that ‘immigrants are a burden, taking jobs and resources, living piled together in segregated areas; segregation prevents integration, clashes with British culture, heightens tension and breeds violence’, in order to expose the view of the world that the claims represent. It explains that this in turn helps to understand why a range of politicians, commentators, and the media find it convenient to recount the litany in spite of its mythical status.
The myths and the litany
Myths about migration and race have been discussed separately in the chapters of this book. But the separate myths are often joined together as a larger cohesive story that describes the dangers of too much immigration, of segregation and of strongly independent ethnic communities. This larger story can be described as a litany, because of the way the dangers are repeated as a guide to policy, without reference to current and lived reality. The litany goes like this: ‘Immigrants are a burden, taking jobs and resources, living piled together in segregated areas; segregation prevents integration, clashes with British culture, heightens tension and breeds violence’.
The litany is also made in reverse: ‘Cultural tension makes people afraid, leading to White flight, self-segregation and ghetto–like parallel communities; instead of integrating, isolated minorities find devious ways of bringing new immigrants for marriage and work’. The litany equates immigration, diversity and segregation, labels all as problems and opposes them to integration, an equation that we have challenged in this book by investigating the evidence behind separate claims and showing them to be myths.
Looking at the claims as one bigger story in this concluding chapter allows us to find their consistencies and expose the views of the world that the claims represent. This in turn helps to understand why a range of politicians, commentators and the media find it convenient to recount the litany in spite of its mythical status.
The reality shown by research gives very little support to the litany. We have shown that the history of immigration is one of concentration in available and cheaper housing followed by slow dispersal as integration proceeds. There are many reasons why separation might be expected to remain or to increase over time – racist or xenophobic hostility to newcomers, new immigration of family members, strong loyalty to family and to the place of one's upbringing, minority disadvantage in the housing and labour markets, the natural growth of immigrant populations through births, and the litany itself, which suggests to people who do not live in them that minority concentrations are particularly dangerous places. Yet despite all this, the evidence shows very clearly that minorities and the White population are more evenly spread than in the past. Migration of minorities away from (p.163) settlement areas and increased mixing are occurring despite all those reasons for separation.
The litany ignores a great deal of other evidence, which is worth summarising here before we discuss why it is ignored. Segregation is greatly exaggerated. The average proportion of any of the ethnic groups across all the areas they live in did not exceed 30% in the last census, even when measured for the smallest areas of 150 households each. Britain's non–White areas are diverse, very rarely mono-ethnic. The only way in which segregation is increasing is when it is measured by the size of the minority populations, which is indeed increasing, but from births more than from immigration. The Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black African groups are the most separated in Britain, in the sense of most unevenly spread. The White group is the most separated in Britain, in the sense of living in areas with only themselves.
The best indicator of integration is the size of the Mixed ethnic population, which is the groups are as likely to enter a family union outside their own group as White people are with minorities. The same goes for Muslims, who are as likely to enter a family union with non–Muslims as are Christians with non-Christians. Individual differences and choice in key areas of life – work, education, family, household – are the basis of liberal notions of creativity and development; differences abound in Britain and are defined as much by class, age and location as by one's ethnicity or religion. For example, when parents choose to send children to state schools that are not their closest, this sorts children more by income than by ethnicity.
Immigration to Britain is not exceptional in the world: Britain's proportion of immigrants is slightly less than the world average, and has grown between 1960 and 2005 at the same rate as world international migration. White f light is a myth except as an observation of White moves out of urban minority concentrations; the rate of movement out is the same for minorities. White movement out of cities preceded immigration, which can therefore be seen as replacing the out–migrating population rather than displacing it. In some cases, White movement is inward to minority concentrations, including in Bradford, Leicester and South London.
Violence is not unique to any ethnic group and is best dealt with through courts and with intelligence about criminal activities rather than through accusing whole communities of being soft on criminality. Muslims are no more likely to have been charged with terrorism if they live in concentrations of Muslim population than (p.164) other areas of Britain. Similarly, race inequality is not best reduced by blaming its victims. Inequality in employment, for example, is as great outside minority concentrations as within them.
Many claims about race and migration that are held up as received wisdom have been shown in the chapters of this book to be untrue or misleading interpretations of the evidence. Trevor Phillips has featured frequently, his importance deriving from his appointment by the government as a senior champion of equality, first as chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and now as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Together with his director of policy, Nick Johnson, at the Commission for Racial Equality, Phillips was the subject of a complaint that their behaviour
The complaint, to the Commission for Racial Equality and the Statistics Commission, cited the lack of response to The Sunday Times, which had quoted Phillips' false claims on population forecasts discussed in Chapter Seven, Phillips and Johnson's misquoted statistics on residential and school segregation, Phillips' misleading interpretation of an unreliable survey on friendship groups discussed in Chapter Five and an argument from Johnson wrongly claiming increasing birth rates in China and India.
rought official statistics, the use of statistics and statistical work by official and public bodies into disrepute; has increased misunderstanding of key social trends in Britain and on this basis could easily contribute to a rise in fear and racial hatred; [and] has set a bad example of how it is possible to argue your case by misquoting statistical evidence, deliberately misleading the public and policy makers on statistics as a result.1
The Statistics Commission was constitutionally able to respond only to comments on official statistics. Having identified a number of inconsistencies in the Commission for Racial Equality website statistics, the Statistics Commission chair, Professor David Rhind, continued ‘We do recognise that the CRE [Commission for Racial Equality] may wish to express and gather together opinions and predictions. We think though that any statements that suggest a basis in official statistics should be confirmed with the Office for National Statistics’.2 As a public note from the chair of one government (p.165) commission to another it was as about as forthright as possible, but it has not halted Trevor Phillips' misleading claims. His comment in January 2008 that ‘We know that white flight is accelerating’ was reported for a week as a news story from the government's head of its equalities body. When we requested the evidence behind this claim, Trevor Phillips sent a polite reply to say that he did not have time to discuss footnotes.3 As we describe in Chapter Six, the evidence shows not White flight but a general movement from inner cities of all ethnic origins. The government appointee of Britain's equality commission should not be able to continue with such a cavalier attitude to evidence, such that truth can be bent according to the needs of his and the government's political perspective.
Another frequent myth-maker appearing in the pages of this book has been MigrationWatchUK, whose bogus and alarmist interpretations of population change were discussed in Chapters Three Four. Their arguments lay every ill in Britain at the door of net immigration to Britain, and in particular immigration from non-Western cultures. The same arguments could be used equally to blame every ill on the fertility of working people since this contributes more to population growth, but perhaps such arguments would not be very popular. We wonder why racist and nationalistic views get such favoured coverage in some newspapers, television and parliamentary committees.
The response of government to diversity has also played a role in perpetuating the litany. When government minister Jack Straw lamented in 2006 that his constituents' use of the niqab (veil) was unhelpful to his understanding of their concerns, he let leash a storm of prejudice that ran the breadth of the litany. Phil Woolas, the minister in charge of government community cohesion policy declared his support by blaming veil-wearers for inviting discrimination and racism: ‘Most British–born Muslims who wear it do so as an assertion of their identity and religion. This can create fear and resentment among non-Muslims and lead to discrimination. Muslims then become even more determined to assert their identity, and so it becomes a vicious circle where the only beneficiaries are racists like the BNP [British National Party]’. And counter-terrorist agencies in Britain and Europe had apparently long been concerned about the readiness of male Islamist terrorists to wear female clothing to escape detection.4
A cultural marker of Islam was identified by an experienced politician as also a sign of separation and inconvenience. Wearing of the niqab was depicted as self–inflicted disadvantage that causes (p.166) discrimination and racism; and a hiding place for terrorists who will use it to avoid immigration controls. This ‘them and us’, ‘with us or against us’ view of community relations and integration is not floated in an obscure, extreme blog, but is put forward by government ministers and agencies, and reported as a news item by The Times. The message is clear: the choice is yours, but if you display such a marker of difference or allow others of your community to do so, then you are to blame for the racism, discrimination, harassment and attention from police services that your whole community will receive. It seems that ‘the claiming of minority rights or affiliations is policed by a ‘zone of moderation’ that is ultimately defined by New Labour’.5
Why does the litany thrive?
An environment for ignoring the evidence
If the evidence undermines the litany of dangerous segregation, and shows more mixing and less segregation, why does the litany get so much space and such a good reception in British politics? When thinking about why this set of myths is repeated, it is clear that although there is coherence to the litany, it is adopted with different emphases. There is a range of personal and political perspectives that are supported by the litany. Some focus on bad segregation, some on bad immigration, some on bad religion and others on bad ethnicity, each making their own set of connections between these various elements of the litany. But it is the general acceptance of the whole litany that allows its elements to be repeated with impunity.
The litany has many characteristics of a moral panic: a consensual concern about the threats of segregation, perceptions of the problem disproportionate to the evidence, and hostility towards the minorities who are seen to be its cause. Periods of moral panic are not unusual and not necessarily detrimental. However, the moral panic about immigration has been identified as unique in its extent and in the role of government and the media in fuelling it. The segregation moral panic can be seen as an extension of the immigration moral panic, which could have ‘serious and long lasting repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in the way society conceives itself’.6 The segregation moral panic is extreme, and dangerously extreme because it is founded on myths.
Myths are powerful because, as we saw in Chapter One, they provide a means to understand society. If they become pervasive (p.167) they can become folklore: ‘So ever-present in the background of people's lives that it becomes almost invisible, folklore nonetheless shapes people's behaviour and reactions to events…folklore is more pervasive than any number of public service announcements or posters and has a greater weight of authority, combining as it does from the collective wisdom and transmitted as it is on a personal, individual level’.7 The litany, which does not represent the evidence of reality, is a candidate for folklore because of the attractiveness of its simple storyline, within which there is room for various perspectives to find justification.
The moral panic and the litany are strong because the threat or blame is placed on people or groups of people who are both visible and structurally weak. The ‘problem’ communities can be easily stereotyped and constructed as different from the mainstream. It is at times of intense social concern that ‘othering’ is most active, producing a self-reinforcing cycle of identifying difference and associating it with danger.8 Stereotyping makes difference manageable by simplifying and generalising the other. It simultaneously perpetuates fear by keeping the other distant and distorted.9 For MigrationWatchUK, the British National Party and others who link immigration to segregation and danger, the unwanted are those with non–Western culture.
Identifying the ‘baddies’ gives a more secure and definite identity to the ‘goodies’. For example, there is such great difficulty defining what it means to be British that it becomes easier to assert a sense of Britishness by emphasising what is not British. When the British reject the foreigner, the asylum seeker, the immigrant, the minority, they are constantly defining and redefining their national identity.10 Othering, therefore, is very much to do with belonging; with defining who belongs and who doesn't. A fierce and reactionary nationalism is undoubtedly behind some of the fear of new communities, however British those communities now are by birth and sentiment.
Identifying the ‘baddies’ can also serve political purposes and maintain the status quo:
(p.168) Racism is not necessarily overt in the promotion of the litany. However, its role in perpetuating the myths should not be overlooked. Ideologies of race and race prejudice are historically embedded into British society and culture. The historical development of racism is ingrained in thinking, culture, institutions, ways of conduct, communications and emotions and is constantly reinforced.12 It is unlikely that the institutional racism that was at the height of political concern at the end of the 1990s has been eradicated despite its relegation down the political agenda.13 Writers on race and politics have commented that ‘despite New Labour's gestures towards cultural diversity and inclusion, its body politic beats to the rhythm of a white heart’.14
The pariah and stigmatised ‘other’ are an easy target for scapegoating and hence a useful tool in the hands of political leaders who wish to divert the blame for a critical situation from themselves onto the outgroup…it is also readily taken up by the native population, as it saves them finding a culprit among their own group and challenging their reassuring order to which they are accustomed.11
The environment in which the litany thrives is also one influenced by a colonial history. It has been argued that Britain is still coming to terms with the loss of empire and that ‘postcolonial melancholia’ characterises the current phase of uncertainty about national identity.15 This melancholia ‘dictates that immigration can only be experienced as invasive war’16 and the story becomes that the British are the main victims of their own colonial history. Current struggles for power on the international stage, including war in Iraq and Afghanistan, sit easily with a desire to limit dissent within Britain.
The illusive goals of integration
The problem with stereotyping and generalising in a framework of nationalist and conservative politics is that, in ignoring the evidence and perpetuating the litany, specific problems of integration are not addressed. And when specific problems are not identified and addressed the environment that nurtures the myths thrives, thus reinforcing the litany. The avoidance of naming specific problems in favour of the generalities of segregation, immigration and parallel communities may be the political route of least resistance. But this route has resulted in the abuse of evidence that we have seen in this book.
As we discussed in Chapter One, integration is a complex and multidimensional concept. So, there is no surprise that devising strategies that result in a perfectly integrated society is a difficult if not impossible task. What is this ideal society that we aspire to? It is easy for the aspiration to fail and for panic to emerge when the initial goals are unrealisable.
The cohesion agenda of integration is developing in some ways that cause concern because they seem more concerned with the litany than (p.169) improving people's lives. In particular, recent thinking has equated successful integration not only with equal life chances – educational outcomes, access to housing and jobs and so on – but also with equal life choices – where people work, go to school and live. This philosophy suggests that integration will only be achieved with the elimination of all difference including in individual preference. This is surely an impossible as well as morally questionable target.
Where we work and live, and which school our children go to are only partly our choice, and depend crucially on where we lived when we were young and on our economic means. For immigrants it can be advantageous to gain the support of those who speak the same language and understand concerns about settling in a foreign and sometimes unwelcoming land. For some Black children, schooling in a minority ethnic environment is a positive advantage so that there is no need to ‘act White’ to achieve, in the same way as some girls thrive in all-girls schooling.
There is also a strongly repressive element to the notion that government should discourage differences in choice by breaking down segregation in where people live.17 The rapid churn in populations that would be required to achieve constant equal residential spread along ethnic lines would bring about what one renowned sociologist of race called the death of community, through the tearing apart of families and friendship groups built during childhood and loyal to their neighbourhood. To engineer such ‘integration’ would demand a turning away from identity and a suicidal level of cultural selfabuse.18The focus on different life choices rather than life chances is particularly unhelpful because no line can be drawn to say when a difference is so large that it is dangerous. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to define what signifies an unacceptably different choice.
What is the alternative to the litany?
Naming specific problems
The dilemmas of a generalised litany of the problems of segregation and generalised solutions to integration that call for sameness can be somewhat overcome by breaking down the issues into specific problems. Forced marriages, the lowest wages and poorest working conditions are all illegal practices that affect immigrants and minorities more than others, but are best tackled explicitly rather than by blaming all immigrants and minorities and by setting improvements (p.170) as conditions of cohesion or integration of whole communities. It does not help to hide problems in blanket terms of isolationism or segregation or life choices, which every immigrant and minority can fear may or may not apply to them. It is a matter of identifying and targeting specific problems.
Equally, the lack of housing, neighbourhood violence and terrorism in Britain are all serious issues,19 but none is solved by hitching them to the immigration and social cohesion policy as is done all too frequently by those quoted in this book. The practice of blaming fundamental problems on immigrants and minorities in order to gain short-term political advantage or media prominence is known in Britain as ‘playing the race card’. Direct discriminatory remarks about minorities are rightly rounded on in political circles, no longer acceptable. But it remains possible to cast whole communities into moral shadow by claiming a wilful lack of integration that burdens the rest of society. This ‘rest of society’, unnamed but certainly voters, are presumed well integrated although it is not clear with whom. This version of playing the race card involves the labelling of inner-city diverse areas as ghettos, of asylum seekers and immigrants as freeloaders, of Muslims as isolationists. If ghettos, freeloading or isolationism are the problems, they should be the target of political debate, rather than diversity, asylum seekers, immigrants and Muslims.
Calls for integration that ascribe attitudes to whole groups can therefore have a perverse effect, as Brendan Barber, the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), warned in 2005: ‘We have had too many cheap calls for Muslims to integrate, some of which have come close to asking people to give up crucial parts of their identity. Building a tolerant liberal society…will be that much harder when some groups suffer from such extreme levels of deprivation and poverty’.20
Perhaps one-sided cheap portrayals of reality come easily to politicians, who need to make a public impact, and to the media, who need to encapsulate a whole story into a headline. But one frequent result appears to be the easy invention and acceptance of negative stereotypes of segregation and immigration.
A prime example is the concern that followed claims that young Asians have fewer friendships with white folk than their parents. We saw in Chapter Five that this is not the case and that nevertheless same-ethnicity friendships need have nothing to do with a wilful isolationism. In fact, given the young age structure of the Asian population, the likelihood that children will become friends with their (p.171) neighbours, particularly those of similar experiences and language, and that they may seek shelter from racism, it might be cause for celebration that roughly half or more of the friends of most minority ethnic residents of Britain are of a different group. This goes for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as much as for Indians and Africans in Britain. The integration of young Asian men and women in gaining greater qualifications is good news and makes the ethnicity of one's friends rather less of an issue. The point here is that for many young people the demand that they choose friends according to some ethnic or religious code is a humiliating one that is most likely to turn them against authority. There are other subjects that get stigmatised in a litany of suspicion and dismissal: Muslims, Gypsies, black youth, segregated communities and single mothers are all fair game in the British press, although their punch-bag status varies in intensity over time. Lone mothers, for example, are alternately painted as sinners and scroungers. Although the alternative picture of struggling saints is too one-sided, it has to be made to break through the stigma and stereotyping. Similarly, one can show that so-called segregated areas are, in fact, usually diverse and supportive, without claiming that all is rosy in the inner–city neighbourhoods where most minorities live. And there is plenty of evidence that young Muslims are usually well integrated with aspirations and concerns familiar to any other British young person, without claiming that they are all saints.
A real evidence base
The misinterpretation of a social trend as a race issue is a characteristic of many of the myths we have discussed. Statistical research often shows an association between two factors (such as the ethnic composition of an area in which someone lives and their employment). Interpretation is then needed to try to explain the association and identify which is the cause and which is the effect (for example, that unemployment restricts many people's residence to poorer housing, which is also where ethnic concentrations are most likely to be). When the policy world is awash with fears of race conflict, immigration and segregation, it is not surprising that these have been handy clothes to drape over studies of social trends. We have shown, however, that it is possible to investigate the extent to which reality is racially painted. Very often it is the interpretation that is racial rather than the reality.
We feel that the evidence is abundant and conclusive that the patterns of minority and majority settlement do not reflect increasing (p.172) segregation but historic employment and housing conditions, and that there is a level of ethnic mixing unprecedented in British history. This mixing involves social and residential mobility that is largely non-racial in magnitude and direction, and is apparent not just in a few isolated places but in British cities generally. The evidence is not hidden but readily available from national statistics agencies. Government agencies and the media should use it more seriously .
Whether all our arguments are accepted or not, we have shown that there are ways of using evidence that help to resist dogmatic assertions that immigration and segregation in Britain are causes of problems: on the contrary, immigration and segregation are results of much deeper global, political and economic processes. Some of these processes are benign demographic growth and dispersal, which are making Britain and much of the rest of the world more diverse places, and suggest that concern over segregation is entirely misplaced. Other processes concern the regulation of employment, and they may be partly under the control of government. But these processes are certainly no more the responsibility of immigrants and minorities than other members of society. Yet immigrants and minorities are too frequently the subject of humiliating demands to change in order to solve other people's problems.
Statistics and research more generally have a clear role in describing the world as it is, and the aspirations of the people who live in it. Those aspirations tend to be common across social groups, in favour of better housing, environment, training, education and leisure, along with respect for others. The abuse of statistics in the litany can and should be tackled. Evidence-based policy is only valuable if the evidence is robust; policy will only be evidence based when it escapes the lens of the litany.
Towards a fresh perspective
So what might be an alternative lens? If issues of segregation and integration are not to be framed within the litany, what is an alternative philosophy for thinking about our diverse society? We cannot offer a comprehensive solution and indeed that has not been the primary aim of this book. Rather, we hope to have opened debate towards recognising that a new policy framework is needed and developing ideas of what that new framework might look like. However, having identified the myths, we advocate a number of directions for thought.
(p.173) A diverse society should not be thought of as a threat. Sameness cannot be an ideal, not least because it is impossible. There is no reason to give attention to ethnic difference any more than differences by class or gender or other lines of social identification. Diversity can be taken as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.21 Similarly, the increased movement of people across international borders is a social change to be embraced rather than feared. As then Prime Minister Tony Blair said in 2000: ‘We have a chance in this century to achieve an open world, an open economy, and an open global society with unprecedented opportunities for people and business’.22 Besides, ‘states that restrict movement are fighting a rearguard action’.23 They are also contributing to global inequalities: ‘Our efforts to keep poor people out while the rich and the educated circulate freely are a form of global apartheid. And like apartheid, they look increasingly unsustainable’.24
Any pursuit of nationalist ideas to create cohesion, as in the citizenship and cohesion agendas with their focus on shared values, should recognise that identities are multiple and transnational.
The strategies for a strong society should focus on meeting human rights and basic needs. There is more reason to focus on equality and living standards than on whether people are friends with each other or who lives near to whom. Policy should recognise what it can and cannot change. It can change the housing conditions of deprived populations (irrespective of ethnicity) but it cannot stop the Pakistani population having children. Tensions in society result from inequalities and perceptions of inequalities. Ethnicity per se is not the cause, except where racism is a driving force.
Finally, we should recognise that successful integration may be very messy. It may not follow the schemes of policies and programmes; it may not lend itself to being systematically monitored. Instead, it may be a more organic development of interactions between peoples; it may be ‘an unruly, untidy and convivial mode of interaction in which differences have to be actively negotiated’.25 In many ways, ethnic differences are ordinary and banal.26 It is the litany that makes them a threat.
(1) The complaint was made by Ludi Simpson and by Daniel Dorling, Professor of Social Geography at the University of Sheffield. It is reproduced together with the CRE response at http://www.ccsr.ac.uk/staff/Ludi/race.html#CREcomplaint2007
(3) Daily Mail, 15 January 2008, ‘“White flight” from city centres is getting worse, says equality chief Trevor Phillips’. Phillips to Simpson, personal communication, 22 January 2008.
(4) The information and quote are from The Times, 9 October 2006, ‘Suspect in terror hunt used veil to evade arrest’, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article666149.ece
(5) Back et al (2002, p 450).
(6) Cohen (1987, p 9). Stanley Cohen's seminal work (1972) introduced the theory of moral panic in a study of mods and rockers in the UK in the 1960s and this ushered in research that looked at delinquent youth subcultures as reactions to growing up in a class society. In an updated version of the book (Cohen, 2002), Cohen discusses how the characteristics of moral panics have changed and identifies the immigration and asylum moral panic as distinct from others.
(8) The concept of ‘othering’ was popularised in the 1980s by Edward Said (1987) in his work on Western views of the Orient.
(12) Jackson and Penrose (1993) discuss the social construction of racism. Jones (1997) gives definitions of prejudice and racism. Joly (1998) discusses processes and meanings of racism across Europe.
(14) Back et al (2002, p 453).
(17) The wish for a reduction in difference is also in contradiction with policies that are intended to increase choice in the public service sector.
(19) Although not as great a national risk as traffic accidents or a flu pandemic according to the National Risk Register published by the Cabinet Office in August 2008, available at www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/reports/national_risk_register.aspx
(21) The Intercultural Cities project is one example of a perspective seeing diversity as advantageous. See Wood and Landry (2007). Tariq Modood (p.175) is prominent among writers defending the concept of multiculturalism as a framework for a positive diverse society. See Modood (2007).