Our First Plural City?

The continued lack of TV (the cable box is kaput) means I have returned to the bosom of radio 4 for my entertainment.  So thursday tonight I listened with with interest to a programme about Leicester (sounds unlikely doesnt it!) which described how it was shortly to become Britains first plural city where “no one group” would be in the majority.

I was quite excited about this because there has been an unmitigated stream of bad news recently and my exposure to the boycott campaign, truthers and recently the BNP stuff has somewhat dented my belief in humanity.  The reason I was so hopeful is tied up with my belief that DIVERSITY is good and we should have more of it.  This is  because it makes , systems, species, populations, communities, organisations well just about anything I can think of stronger.

For example research carried out by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission shows that if you aren’t prepared to recruit from the widest possible talent pool there is plenty of evidence that shows you are missing out on tangible business benefits,  I have included below an extract from ‘Talent not Tokenism’ which says it much better than me.

“Yet many of the companies featured here have found that what may have begun as a way of making sure they are doing the right thing either legally or morally has had tangible benefits for their core business. These include:

  • Increasing employee satisfaction, which helps attract new staff and retain those already there, reduces recruitment costs, and can increase productivity
  • Understanding better how the company’s diverse customers think and what drives their spending habits, or how to access markets they have not previously been able to tap into so effectively
  • Finding enough workers to fill skills gaps in areas with tight labour markets, where there are not enough ‘obvious candidates’ for the vacancies they have.”

After a while my brain did finally kick into gear and remember the the internet is a rather good example of a system that is dependent on diversity not just strengthened by it.

Returning to the documentary – Leicester has had large ethnic minority population for over 40 years so much so that in the early 70’s the local paper declared that Leicester was full and couldn’t accept anymore immigrants.  But since then the communities have learnt to live in greater harmony and they city is seen by some as a model for multiculturalism.

So why from the start was I slightly disappointed by the whole thing?  After all we live in a very multicultural street where no two adjacent houses contain people with the same ethic background, I only mention this because, in my white middle class way, this is one of the things I like about our street.

Well at the beggining of the show the reporter was at a regular dinner event called the ‘thursday night club’ this event was full of successful local businessmen we were told.  So far so Radio 4 documentary, but this scene was a microcosm of the whole story really.  We had one successful group (successful Asian businessmen) who had done very well since moving to Leicester, but there was no sign of any women and there didn’t appear to be a great deal of interaction with other groups.

As I write this I wonder am I being unfair and will this just turn into a rant or a whinge?  Well lets hope not and to avoid that I will try to link this back to my thoughts about diversity being good (thank you fleshisgrass for that suggestion) and why I found that vignette  so disappointing.

Even in what is billed as the most plural society in Britain the different groups seemed to get along by not really interacting with each other and then when the new immigrants were not quite a good as the old ones (who seemed to be richer and dare I say it less Muslim) particularly in the view of some of the locals.

The BNP answer to this is that it’s human nature and evidence can be found by the study of primates.  It seems a bit risky the BNP comparing human and ape behaviour but I won’t dwell on that.  When I read that I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.  The point of evolution and society is that we have learnt to subjugate some of our basic animal instincts for personal gain and the common good.

Yes we feel threatened by the ‘other’ and concerned by change but behaving badly in the face of this and blaming it the fact we are descended from apes just won’t wash.  What is needed is help and support for people to accept different groups for what they are and to work together to form strong diverse and thriving communities – not a series of separate communities that don’t have a problem with each other because they never interact.

This probably sounds hopelessly idealistic but I don’t think it is, what it will be is hard work.  What it will need is strong and responsible leadership from central and local government and a lot less scaremongering by the media.

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