Diversity isn’t destroying London, a lack of integration is
If Sadiq Khan does anything this term, he must fund integration programmes
My flatmate is a banker, and he has to go to Ilford for a meeting. He is not happy about this at all. I look at him with confusion over my coffee in Highgate.
“What’s wrong with Ilford?”
“Nothing wrong with Ilford. It’s just…I’m not one of them.”
“Who is ‘them’?”
“They make it painfully obvious that as a black man I’m not welcome there. They aren’t Londoners.”
“They live in London.”
“Not the same thing.”
And actually, he’s kind of right. There are pockets of London where it is bloody obvious you aren’t one of the gang. If you can’t read arabic or urdu then you are kind of stuffed finding that restaurant. It’s worse for many Bangladeshi or Pakistani people, particularly ladies, who live on the fringes of London’s community. The language barriers and cultural restrictions are horrendous. I know, I know. Not all Bangladeshi women. Not all Muslims. Not all Orthodox Jews. Not all Nigerian Evangelists. My case still stands. We all cling so hard to our identity and old country language/faith/culture that it is almost impossible to intergrate.
And you have to intergrate for a city to work. We need to have common languages, common morals, common laws, common privileges and common support networks. We all need to be able to go to the police when we are scared or assaulted. We all need to be able to recieve hospital care and psychological treatment while being able to understand our doctors. We all need to be able to work among people of different faiths, colours and genders. We all need to be able to go to school, fill in a tax return and order bad coffee from Costa. We need to be able to talk to that woman on the bus when she says your sari is lovely. We need to be able to make friends.
If you can’t do these things, not only are you massively limiting your potential as a member of society, but you are also extremely vulnerable. In my research with British-Pakistani girls, again and again, the thing that comes up as the reason they don’t seek help from authorities while experiencing abuse is that ‘that’s for white girls’. It is often culturally embarassing to admit a marriage has failed or that you have been raped. The concept of consent is very different. And the threat of racism incurred against their community is enormous. Again, not all British-Pakistani girls. But enough to make me concerned for their wellbeing.
I have enormous privilege as a largely westernised, broadly European woman born into middle class British society. If I get smacked up by my husband, I have limited social reprecussions for reporting him. If anything, I will be supported through court. If my daughter is forced to marry someone abroad aged 15, then she will be protected by British authorities and recovered as a ward of state. If I get cervical cancer or an STI, I can go and recieve an internal examination on my own without risking social ostriscisation. If I don’t love my husband, I can leave him. If I go to the police for anything, I won’t fear racism. No one is scared of me when I walk down the street. No one moves away from me on the tube in case I have a bomb. No one will demand I cover my head and my body against my will. No one will beat me up for dating a Christian man. And absolutely no one can stop me getting an education, marrying who I want and being open about my sexuality.
Am I making my case? Just because we live under UK law doesn’t mean that we all have UK privileges. It is essential that we are intergrated at least to the extent where we all have the ability to recieve the same protection, respect and social freedom. That is a fundamental human right that cannot be dismissed as ‘cultural sensitivity’.
But let’s not inflate this. Wearing a hijab does not stop you learning how to make Yorkshire puddings or getting a first in biological sciences. Teaching your children your first language does not stop them from doing amazingly in that essay on Dickens. Going to schul or mosque doesn’t stop you coming into work on a Monday and having a laugh with Samantha about how silly Boris Johnson’s haircut is. Not wanting to eat pork doesn’t infringe on your ability to go to the police when you are raped by another man. Diversity isn’t inherently bad. The problem is when you don’t have a common system in which all civilians have the same rights and moral freedoms.
We need to have language workshops, female health groups, social work for intergration and restrictions on ethnic segregation. We need greater protection for girls at risk with dual citizenship and we need strong educational drives to help teenage girls stay in school at marriage age. We can do this. We can change the system.
But it won’t happen through racism or looking the other way.