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Since I spoke a few days ago, about the danger of Britain
“sleepwalking to segregation”, I have been delighted at the
seriousness with which most people, including politicians of all
parties, have engaged with the issues we are raising.

I would like to reiterate our central message about the
dangers to race relations in Britain, to make clear one or two
things we are not saying, and to ask you to participate in a
debate, not about what we all know to be the truth - the
statement of the bleedin’ obvious, as we Londoners would
say - but how we respond to it.

We have of course been accused of alarmism, of over-stating
the case, frankly, we are simply pointing out what most
people already know, and what has been demonstrated by
independent research.

The metropolitan middle classes can remain in denial for as
long as they like. But our job is to confront the reality that
most Britons - black, brown, white – face, and change it where
that reality weakens our nation’s fabric.

The picture we’ve revealed is not an excuse to throw up our
hands in despair and abandon hope that our multi-ethnic
society can work.

Quite the reverse. We state the facts, because if we are going
to solve our existing problems and avoid new ones, we first
have to acknowledge that they exist.

If we don’t, we will deserve the worst a multi-ethnic society
can throw at us. If we use our traditional pragmatism, wit and
flexibility we can be an example to the world.

That’s why I want to put a critical question to you which, it
seems to me, must be at the heart of all modern politics: how
should people who are very different in their traditions and
lifestyles come to share the same values, and how can they
manage to live in the same space peacefully and
prosperously?

In the words of Rodney King, the man whose beating by the
police sparked off the Los Angeles riots in 1992, “Why Can’t
We All Just Get Along?” How do we manage to get along in a
society which, whether we like or not, is increasingly multi-
ethnic and will become more so over the next two
generations?

On race relations in Britain, we do not expect everyone to
agree with our analysis. We would be astounded if we all
agreed about the precise nature of what is happening and
how acute the degree of ethnic and religious separation is in
any given part of the country.

But what is important is that we do acknowledge that, in spite
of the many advances we have made in community relations,
we still have a great deal to do; and that in some important
respects we are heading in the wrong direction.

Let me remind you briefly of what we believe is happening
and why we have the evidence to support our case:

We are becoming more segregated residentially; it is true that
areas which are predominantly white are becoming more
integrated as some minority Britons move in. But given the
relative numbers their impact is tiny (I know one black sixth-
former in a mostly white school who points out that every one
of the 150 students in her year has a black friend -
unfortunately all 150 friends turn out to be the same person -
her).

The real problem is what those who move out leave behind
areas which are becoming more and more ethnically
concentrated and exclusive.

New research shows that most schools are more segregated
than the areas in which they are located.

New research from the CRE shows that we are not making
friends across the lines of race and religion and that younger
people tend to be more likely to socialise within their own
ethnic or faith grouping than older Britons.

This cannot be right. And let me tell you why I personally see
this as so dangerous.

My family came from a country which has for the whole of my
lifetime suffered from racial division. Though I was born here
I spent most of my childhood in Guyana, a country rich in
natural resources - Walter Raleigh christened it Eldorado for
its reserves of gold.

It is hugely diverse in its people. The talent of the Guyanese
has become an international story, even prompting the
Prince of Wales to talk of a Guyanese mafia, including the
leader of the House of Lords for example.

Like most Guyanese, I grew up with boys and girls of literally
all races – we even celebrate the six peoples in the
Guyanese national anthem – and every major religion.

But I have seen how a divided political system, segregated
workplaces and mutual suspicion that causes everyone to
fight against his or her neighbour, have destroyed a nation,
now one of the poorest on earth. And Guyana is not divided
because it is poor. It is poor because it is divided.

We can see the result of such divisions all over the world,
including, recently in the USA.

I desperately want to avoid such divisions here.

We know that there is a mix of reasons why this
phenomenon takes place. One reason is sheer economic and
social inequality. If you are more likely to be unemployed,
less likely to be well-educated and live in poor housing your
chances of meeting others and making friends outside your
immediate community are poor.

Another is cultural - some people want to be near their
church or mosque or synagogue, or near the shops or
hairdressers that cater to their community.

A third is history, particularly for migrants recruited to a
particular trade or factory, and who settle near their place of
work.

And fourth, there is protection; for Jews who came a hundred
years ago, Asians who came forty years ago and even the
Eastern Europeans arriving now, all of whom may be subject
to abuse and violent assault by a minority of their
neighbours, there is safety in numbers.

But none of these problems should lead to the formation of
communities that are shut off from the outside world; that
simply makes the situation worse. But that is what we are
seeing emerging.

There are two responses I have heard with which I cannot
agree.

The first is that the fracturing to which we are drawing
attention relates solely to Muslims. Wrong. Other
communities show the same tendencies, including some
white communities. And indeed, many Muslims are entirely
ready to integrate with others if they have the chance to do
so.

Second, that social segregation represents a natural instinct
in human beings; that we really want to stick to our own kind
and we should be allowed to get on with it. That in reality,
we care little for people who are not like us. And by the way,
that this is a reason to cease immigration.

This is a bizarre argument in a nation which built its greatest
achievements out of the energy and enterprise of migrants.
There may well be a case for better or tighter control of
immigration, its speed and its scale. But this isn’t it.

There is very little evidence that the speed of migration
makes any difference to the ability to integrate. Jews took
more than a century to get here in numbers; East African
Asians took days. Both groups are prosperous and
integrated.

Nor does scale make much difference. There are three times
as many African Caribbeans as there are Bangladeshis in the
UK. The African Caribbeans are near the top of the mixing
league; Bangladeshis near the bottom.

And we can look at our own history to show that the British
people are not by nature bigots.

We created something called the empire where we mixed
and mingled with people very different from those of these
islands. Not on equal terms, of course, but it was after all,
the free trade Liberal Joseph Chamberlain who coined the
phrase ‘Little Englander’ for all those who favoured
protectionism. And the phrase ‘going native’ was coined by
the English.

It would also be a travesty to suggest that a people who
endured two devastating wars in the first half of the last
century in order to ward off tyranny, not just from these
islands but from the whole of Europe, would be so small-
minded as to say that we could not live with the Polish
airmen, the French resistance fighters, the Caribbean
mechanics and the Indian infantrymen who also played a
heroic role in that struggle.

We are used to the idea of one nation. That is why the
prospect of a Britain fragmented and fractured by race and
religion is so alien to us. It simply is not in our nature.

But sometimes we forget our history. We forget our
internationalism and our openness and we become afraid
and withdrawn. We could allow this to happen by accident.
We could allow short-term trends to become so ingrained
that, as in America, they reach the point where they cannot
be reversed.

That is why we are raising this issue. Because, unlike some,
we believe that we can avoid that future.

We can make a difference. We at the CRE think that real
contact between people who come from different
backgrounds is the key here.

That is why we want to see young people getting together,
on the sports field, or in the music studios. Why we want to
see women’s groups and sports clubs reaching out to people
who may not share the committee’s ethnicity or faith, but
share their passion for drama or bridge or tennis or
gardening.

It is why we welcome steps by political parties to show
clearly that they can be a home for people of any and every
ethnic or religious background. And why we want to ensure
that schools do all they can to make sure that, where it is
possible their intake brings boys and girls of all backgrounds
together.

Let me emphasise. We do not support quotas. We think
bussing has failed. We do not want positive discrimination as
we’ve seen it in other countries. And we are not for clumsy
social engineering.

But we do not accept that there is nothing that can be done.

That is why we have set out an agenda for integration. It
involves three prerequisites.

If we want more integration we must have more equality -
no-one will integrate into a society where they are expected
to be a second class citizen.

If we want more integration we must have more participation
in civic and political society; no-one will be part of a society
where they have no voice.

And if we want more integration we must have more
interaction; no-one will integrate with people they do not
know.

But integration does not have to come at the price of bland
and ultimately repressive uniformity.

Today I am addressing members of a political party which is
founded on the liberty of the individual. Though we share
values and traditions, we also preserve the precious right of
an individual to have his or her own, sometimes eccentric,
occasionally unattractive, lifestyle.

Assimilation of new cultures would challenge that
fundamental British value. It would be the kind of repressive
authoritarianism that led Edmund Burke to fulminate against
the French revolution.

But we are not anarchists. The critical issue in a multi-ethnic
society is how to reconcile respect for our common values
and traditions with that individual liberty.

Let me offer a metaphor.

Today we have millions of cars in Britain - of all kinds, shapes
and colours. But they all have to share the same road space.

In order for us to do that safely there are some hard rules -
laws that mean we must first past a test of proficiency before
we gain a licence to drive, laws that mean we must stop at
traffic lights, drive on the same side of the road, and wear
seat belts.

But we do not all want to drive at the same speed and in the
same way. So there are also some rules of the road which
express our common understanding of how to deal with our
different ways of behaving, and which help us to manage
awkward situations, where no-one is breaking a law but our
differences could lead to conflict.

Who has priority at a roundabout?  What to watch out for
when there are children or old folk about? Which lane to
drive in on a motorway? How to warn other drivers when
there’s a speed trap up ahead?

Most of these - not the speed trap, maybe - are contained in
a single document, which, even if it doesn’t have the force of
law, contains the set of rules of behaviour that allows us all
to get along on the road without too many conflicts, a
minimum of rage and few accidents.

It’s called the Highway Code. I think that if we are to live
together successfully we need a modern highway code for
multi-ethnic Britain.

In Britain we have always been multi-ethnic - Scots, Welsh,
Irish, Protestant, Catholic, and so on. We have our hard laws
that bind us all too parliamentary democracy, equality of men
and women, the care of children, settling our disputes
peacefully and so on.

But we also have many unspoken rules, which are the
equivalent of the Highway Code for our multi-ethnic society.
We respect others’ ways of worshipping. We compromise on
dress codes - what we wear at work may not be what we
wear at home.

And above all we use the English language for everyday
intercourse with others - even if there is only one person in
the group who does not speak some other language.

But just as the nature of the transport landscape changes -
more powerful cars, innovations like motorways and so forth
- the rules of the road have to be developed from time to
time.

Today, globalisation means that the rules of multi-ethnic
Britain are under constant challenge as we encounter new
cultures and our own culture changes. We need a modern
highway code for multi-ethnic Britain, our unwritten
handbook for getting on with each other.

Should councils print all their important documents in several
languages to encourage participation, or is this encouraging
separatism?

What should we do about holy days which are not bank
holidays for example? Should we put off that important
meeting because it’s Yom Kippur, even though only one of
the people attending is Jewish?

Are judges right to say that school uniform may not be
compulsory for the devout – even though for some it is
compliant with Islamic modesty?

Is it really offensive to call someone ‘coloured’?

Are there any circumstances in which we sacrifice freedom of
expression to protect the minority from ridicule?

We need to find ways of reaching a national agreement on
some of these issues. We need to update our highway code
of conduct to meet the needs of our multi-ethnic society.

That is why we welcome the Government’s proposal for a
Commission on Integration which will study these issues of
principle. I hope it will address some of the everyday
problems.

But government cannot just decree those rules. We all need
to debate and agree those rules. They have to work in our
everyday lives.

And, just as nothing in our highway code should undermine
the fundamental laws of the road, our updated handbook
must preserve our fundamental values - we all obey the
same laws; we all respect each other’s rights; we all sign up
to the equality of women, and to equal rights for people
whatever their sexual orientation. And we accept
responsibility for participating in and preserving the integrity
of our community.

We can all see the dangers. We at the CRE have tried to
start the process of avoiding those dangers. But in the
debate we have begun, in which we hope you will play a
major part, there is so much more to be discussed and
decided.

But we have been this way before. We do this better than
any other nation. If we want to create the new rules for an
integrated society we can do it.

We first, of course, have to agree that we want to do it.

I hope that you will agree with me that such an agreement
would be the greatest prize possible in a world riven with
ethnic and religious strife. We can create a Greater Britain,
as Britons of genius have done before. It’s our generation’s
challenge. I think we are up to it, but only if we all work
together.

The writer is the chair of the Commission for Racial
Equality.

editor@thenewblackmagazine.com

Trevor Phillips on Race in Britain

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