Catriona Robertson

journeys at home and abroad

How culturally secure are you?

It’s been a challenging weekend for multiculturalism – and barely a mention of David Cameron or Angela Merkel.

Harry Eyres' Slow Lane is often a treat

Harry Eyres’ Slow Lane in the FT Weekend wonders whether our current idea of culture isn’t much more than a collection of behaviours, rather than something to aspire to.

You can have a culture of not swiping your Oyster card on a bendy bus, or driving at 10 miles an hour over the speed limit on motorways.

He suggests multiculturalism from the inside – understanding our own individual multi-culture – and gives a rough guide to the Western cultural canon as a start.

. . the Greeks, the ethical profundities of the Old and New Testaments, Roman civilisation and law, the Renaissance and the rise of science, the Enlightenment and the Romantic rebellion, Freud’s insights into the power of the unconscious and so on.

I’m a Scot who’s lived and worked in Calcutta and Papua New Guinea.  I’ve glimpsed wisdom in different religious and philosophical traditions.  I’ve worked locally alongside people with African roots for decades.  So my addendum would include colonialism and subsequent trading patterns, world faiths, feminism and a Celtic/Highland take on Christianity and the natural world.  We all have our own patchwork of experiences.

I wonder to what extent we receive or choose our own multi-culture or multiple identities?  Some of us have more choice than others – and some ‘own’ our identities more than others, as I argued recently.

Eyres recalls a British Academy Forum last year on multicultural London.  In Pat Thane’s short report, well worth a read, Rob Berkeley (Runnymede Trust) concludes that London succeeds at being ‘the world in one city’ – which won us the 2012 Olympic bid.

We are creating the world in one city and all the inequalities of the world in one city. I want to start in a hopeful place about those interactions and things that we could create differently in London, to challenge the rest of the world about some of the ethnic conflict that still occurs.

He seems to be saying, ‘as a world city, we don’t want simply to replicate the injustice and conflict of the world, we want London to be a force for good, showing how a fairer world can work’.

Tomorrow Searchlight releases its Fear and Hope report – a study of attitudes to immigration, identity and multiculturalism (co-written by Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate, with a foreward by Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham & Rainham).  Nick has summarised the findings for the Guardian today.

The survey of 5,000 people, the largest of its kind ever conducted, is stark, brutal and unequivocal.

Some 39% of Asian Britons, 34% of white Britons and 21% of black Britons now believe all immigration into the UK should be stopped permanently, or at least until the UK’s economic situation improves.

Meanwhile, 52% of Britons agree with the proposition “Muslims create problems in the UK” . . . In addition, 48% of Britons say they would consider supporting a new far right-wing party, if it shunned violence and fascist imagery.

London’s population may, on the whole, live well with its differences, but in some places – in London and across the UK – attitudes to immigration are tied strongly to economic and social security:

The means test appears to have a greater impact upon attitudes towards integration and identity than the cricket test.

Security of identity (and, I would say, of multiple identity) is a key factor, too.

A new politics of identity, culture, and nation has grown out of the politics of race and immigration, and is increasingly the opinion driver in modern British politics. There are now in effect six “identity tribes” in our society. These are: confident multiculturalists (8% of the population); mainstream liberals (16%); identity ambivalents (28%); cultural integrationists (24%); latent hostiles (10%); and active enmity (13%).

The cherished “middle ground” of British politics is occupied by two of these groups; the cultural integrationists, motivated by authority and order; and identity ambivalents, who are concerned about their economic security and social change. Together they make up 52% of the population.

Migration to the UK and opportunities to welcome or oppose multicultural life here depend on what is happening elsewhere.  People come as refugees (seeking safety), students (seeking high quality education) and economic migrants (for better paid work).

Enda Kenny, the incoming Irish taoiseach, has said that he doesn’t want the economic crisis to send another generation away to start a new life abroad – in Sydney, Brisbane and Vancouver.  British Libyans have said how happy they would be if they could go back to their home country and help rebuild it.

London might not be a world in one city if it weren’t for trouble elsewhere; a more equitable world might deprive London of its special multicultural status but ensure that people were thriving where they wanted to thrive.  We would choose to travel and live in other parts of the world on the basis of a level playing field.

Harry Eyres asks us to discover our own value-based multicultural heritage; Richard Berkeley wants London to be a ‘beacon’ for the rest of the world; Nick Lowles wants to oppose political extremism by bringing communities together.  Yes, yes and yes.

Security of identity and economic security seem to be key.  In addition to working towards a fairer world, how can British culture itself evolve and change without taking away the security of any group – whether that’s Muslims, the white working-class, rural communities or the urban multiculturalists?

2 comments on “How culturally secure are you?

  1. jeanne hinton
    7 March 2011

    Thanks for this Catriona. I’ve been looking out for you blogging on this issue. Hardly just an issue is it ? I particularly like your summing up sentences at end.

  2. Pingback: Fear and Hope « Catriona Robertson

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This entry was posted on 27 February 2011 by in London and tagged , , , , , , .
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