After Bradford: engineering divisions

The Ouseley Report seems to propose that there should be a no-holds-barred attempt at 'altering the mindset of people unwilling to interact with others who are not like themselves'.

Josie Appleton

Topics Politics

Bradford, according to a new report, is in the ‘grip of fear’ – a town ‘fragmenting’ along lines of race, culture and religion.

When white and Asian youths clashed in the town on 7 July 2001, leaked versions of the report – Community Pride, Not Prejudice by Sir Herman Ouseley (1), former head of the Commission for Racial Equality – provided a prism through which to view the violence: as the outbursts of a divided community. For many, the riots vindicated both the report’s assessment and its policy conclusions.

But scratch the surface, and the report should raise a few eyebrows among everybody, from whatever community. It presents Bradford as a town made up of groups of people who refuse to talk to each other – and who need official training to ensure intercultural interaction.

The Ouseley report suggests that ‘rather than seeing the emergence of a confident multicultural district…people’s attitudes appear to be hardening and intolerance towards differences is growing’. There is a ‘virtual apartheid’ in many secondary schools – and people only connect with other groups ‘on those occasions when they cannot avoid each other’. It claims that the white community resents the perceived hostile and mono-cultural religious leaders of the Asian community, while the Asian community thinks it is the victim of ‘Islamaphobia’ in schools and at work.

In short, there is communication breakdown – a case of ‘limited or non-existent interaction’ between different communities.

Bradford people, states the report, are self-segregating. Negative stereotypes are spread through ‘word-of-mouth anecdotes’ and ‘parental prejudices are fed to children’. If left to their own devices, it seems, people will retreat into their separate ‘comfort zones’, surrounding themselves only by people like themselves. And according to the report, officials of the past were too ‘[reluctant] to challenge’ the development of socioeconomic projects ‘along self-styled cultural and faith-dominant tracks’.

To remedy this problem, the report recommends that intercultural awareness and interaction become specialised skills – which must be taught by public officials and a new generation of community leaders.

So Bradford will boast a Centre for Diversity, Learning and Living: a ‘centre of excellence’ for how people from different cultures in the Bradford district ‘can share their diverse experiences’. Currently, ‘ignorance about cultural diversity’ is a ‘knowledge deficiency’ and a ‘basic skills/knowledge gap in the labour market’. The report proposes that, in the near future, people appointed in the public services in Bradford will have to show an awareness of cultural diversity: ‘diversity competence’ will become ‘an essential key experience/skills requirement for public service appointments’. Workers’ ‘knowledge and experience of multicultural communities’ will be tested through ‘interviews, evidence production, assessments, [and] exercises’.

And in schools, children will be taught ‘about diversity and the need to respect people from all social, religious and cultural backgrounds’. Between the ages of five and seven, children will learn to appreciate that ‘they belong to various groups and communities’; and by secondary school they will know ‘the origins and implications of diverse national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the UK and the need for mutual respect and understanding’.

Community project funding would no longer service single community groups only – instead, the aim of a project would be ‘to get their communities, clients and service users to interact with different cultural groups’. There are plans for art and theatre projects this summer, with the express aim of getting people from different groups to interact.

The report argues that these moves will increase trust and confidence between people and help to create a new civic identity. But in reality, they are more likely to increase people’s awareness of divisions, and corrode genuine existing relationships between people of different cultural backgrounds.

Teaching ‘diversity awareness’ is likely to perpetuate, if not increase, divisions between groups. If you were told, from age five, that there is this community and that community, and they are different for reasons x and y, then you could easily end up with a fixed impression of the things that divide people. When meeting a Sikh you would be less likely to see them as an individual than as a representative of the ‘Sikh community’, with all its requisite features.

Likewise, projects aimed at mixing cultural groups are likely to reinforce distinctions between these groups. For example, the idea of ‘the Afro-Caribbean community getting to know the Pakistani community’ is as much founded on the notion of two different types of people as is the running of separate projects for the Afro-Caribbean community and the Pakistani community.

A self-conscious ‘dialogue’ between groups can reinforce people’s sense of difference from each other, as much as can self-conscious segregation.

The idea of intercultural mixing as a specialised skill would bureaucratise, and ultimately undermine, the genuinely existing relationships between people of different ethnic communities. When an Asian friend becomes a source of CV points to demonstrate ‘diversity competence’, an enjoyable friendship is transformed into a testing ground for your intercultural communication skills. The basis of the friendship becomes less something that is shared between two people, than the formal working out of procedures invented by experts at the Centre for Diversity, Learning and Living.

These proposals have a coercive element which is objectionable on its own terms. There seems to be an idea that there should be a no-holds-barred attempt at ‘altering the mindset of people unwilling to interact with others who are not like themselves’. Ouseley is prepared for a deep and difficult transformation of attitudes and behaviour. ‘There will be no gain without pain’, says the report.

So in the name of improving intercultural relationships the report suggests ‘public education programmes’, which will ‘encourage compliance with pre-determined acceptable behaviour standards’. Who pre-determines these acceptable behaviour standards? Certainly not the Bradfordians themselves.

The Ouseley report highlights the failure of past anti-racist programmes. ‘Community leaders’, it says, are now seen as being ‘in league with the establishment key people’, are often unrepresentative. Regeneration funds force communities to bid against each other for scarce resources, and only create more divisions and resentments. Segregated schooling helps to breed mistrust between communities.

Yet while the record of official ‘anti-racist’ intervention stands in question, the Ouseley report seems to be calling for a new and more profound intervention – which would have even more divisive effects.

The meanings of racism and anti-racism, meanwhile, seem to have changed. Racists are no longer skinheads with swastika tattoos, or even white people, but people of every ethnicity – everybody, it would appear, has the tendency to retreat to the ‘comfort zones’ of people like themselves. An anti-racist, on the other hand, is not just any person who thinks racism is wrong – they are the experts at the centers of excellence for intercultural mixing, who have access to the specialist skills needed to overcome cultural barriers.

According to this report, it seems the people of Bradford are born with prejudice. And it is only through improving their ‘diversity competence’ scores that they will gain pride.

It looks more like shameless social engineering to me.

Read on:

Who divided Oldham?, by Brendan O’Neill

Oldham: unasked questions, by Brendan O’Neill

Same Oldham story?, by Brendan O’Neill

The trouble with multiculturalism, by Kenan Malik

British racism – a new original sin, by Frank Furedi

spiked-issue: Race

(1) Community Pride Not Prejudice: Making diversity work in Bradford, presented to Bradford Vision by Sir Herman Ouseley, July 2001

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today