Recently I have been catching up on publications about diversity, ethnicity and multiculturalism. The following books, written or edited by academics from a range of backgrounds including the Social Sciences, Geography, Population Studies have provided a broad and engaging insight into contemporary academic debates and discussions in the UK and abroad. The books are accessible to all interested in modern multicultural in society, and in particular useful for those interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of the evidence about race and migration, in order to learn about how to effectively challenge the pernicious myths that perpetuate racial inequalities and racism in local, national and international landscapes.
‘Sleepwalking to segregation’? Challenge myths about race and migration
– Nissa Finney and Ludi Simpson (Policy Press, 2009)
Finney and Simpson, of University of Manchester, discuss contemporary UK media and political debates about migration and race showing us that many of the prevailing ideas that are perpetuated particularly by right-wing factions of polity and media are actually dangerous myths and generalisations. Statistics about immigration, race relations and integration are being utilised to scare-monger, rather than being used fairly and openly, as the authors advocate. Evidence is frequently ignored by those pursuing a pessimistic agenda. Evidence is “selectively presented, at times ignored and at times creatively invented”, resulting in myths and distortions when it comes to issues of race and migration. Myths about segregation, ghettoes, immigrants and Muslim terrorists are seeping into the public imagination. Worrying still is that academic research slips into a discourse – which is subject to “exaggeration and untested assumptions” about ‘problem’ immigrant areas. The authors are concerned by how spokespeople from the media and institutions such as polity, as well as MigrationWatchUK, are prone to “repeating claims without concern for their truth”.
The authors focus on presenting the evidence we should know about multicultural Britain. Finney and Simpson argue that the current pessimism about Britain as a failing, ailing segregated and ghettoised society is “unnecessary and unwarranted”. They want us to think about alternative ways of discussing race and migration in modern Britain. They support equality of treatment as the basis for respect, as well as action against racism, and ensuring promoting of the rights of refugees. The authors discuss how ethnicity/race is defined/measured in this inaccurate storytelling about the state of modern multicultural Britain. Selective reporting represents communities and schools that are segregated, yet Finney and Simpson show that these communities and schools could equally be described as mixed, if certain evidence was used fairly and openly, instead of through selective ignorance and abuse of statistics. “Overstatement and oversimplification” are two ways that lead to abuse of statistical evidence on race and migration. If the growth of segregation is a myth, as shown by the authors, then they argue that multiculturalism is a “legitimate option in social policy”.
The book is very useful for those reading up on and researching multicultural Britain, as it provides you with the myth-breaking that is urgent and necessary in challenging the current climate where moral panics and hysteria are provoked by some media and political players. The authors also provide the readers with a summary of much needed arguments and evidence at the end of the book to be used as a reliable reference source. Although the book principally concentrates on Britain, there is information provided about France and North America in relation to how data on race and ethnicity are utilised, thus giving the reader some comparative perspectives.
Lived Diversities: Space, Place and Identities in the Multi-Ethnic Society – Charles Husband, Yunis Alam, Jorg Huttermann, Joanna Fomina (Policy Press, 2014)
“What do we expect of people who share life in specific neighbourhoods?” (p5)
The book successfully explores the concept of co-existence within a contemporary multi-ethnic urban specific space, bearing in mind that the global and the local are not mutually exclusive but often interdependent concepts in the study of modern societies. Co-existence and ethnically diverse cities are not new phenomena (for example, convivencia was commonplace in Muslim Spain), and the authors aim to contribute to current literature on belonging to a multi-ethnic locality through their detailed focus on Manningham, which is an area (in the city of Bradford) often viewed negatively in public discourses by those external to the area, but desirable to those inhabiting this place. The key strength of this collaborative text is that the multiple authors contest deficit discourses (on the part of the government and the media) regarding diversity in Britain by showing us how the locals make meaning from multi-ethnic belongings; moreover, the diverse demographics of Manningham can be used to critique the “essentialising language of government” (p10). Manningham “has its own distinctive history, which includes a long history of different flows of migration” (p34), and thus the authors are able to show us that census data alone cannot provide an accurate picture of the daily diversities of the people in this locale.
Ethnicity has come to be understood as more than a “mere convenient marker of interesting difference between citizens”, for it is a “powerful means of coding a complex web of conceptions of superiority/inferiority, entitlement/disenfranchisement and closeness/distance” (p3). Unfortunately for contemporary British society, political and policy rhetoric have “racialised the experience, and conception, of coexistence in multi-ethnic urban settings”(p3). Bradford – and Manningham – have been racialised too as “Pakistani” places, yet the authors present a place that has a great Polish presence too. The authors also report interview findings that show the nuances of how both majority and minority ethnic Manningham residents perceive their everyday lives and identities: as a safe and familiar space of settlement for some Muslim South Asians, as a cosmopolitan place according to some local White people, or some White people who feel they are a “self-conscious minority” (p81).
Language employed nowadays in relation to ethnic diversity – pejorative words like “conflict” and “challenge” create an image of “disaffected and inadequately assimilated minority groups destabilising urban life…inherent pathologies in their way of life that have rendered them a dysfunctional and threatening presence in our urban landscape” (p4). The authors bring to the forefront the lived realities of the residents of Manningham by providing a detailed description of the streetscape, as well as the historical and physical factors that impact upon the everyday interactions of the local people, in order to challenge negative stereotypes about the area.
A highly engaging chapter of the book introduces the interplay between masculinity, urban life, ethnicity and the automobile – what is the symbolic significance of the car in the lives of the Manningham residents, and how does this relate to issues of identity? This “vibrant and, at times, overpowering car presence” (p198) is explored to make sense of as the authors highlight how “part of the story rests in the rich texture of meanings that car ownership has for some of Bradford’s Pakistanis” (p149):
“It is a physical presence that has the capacity to trigger acute moments of inter-ethnic sensibility that may be characterised by envy, suspicion, resentment and anger, each with the associated attribution of legitimating beliefs about the character and intentions of the car driver/owner” (p149).