Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fear and rumours grip Birmingham

Did the Asians of Birmingham arrive in England with more money than the immigrants from the West Indies? I don't think so. If they own the shops in the Lozells area, is it because they stole them? No, they have bought or rented them.

Do they get the chance to buy or rent because of "racism?" I don't think so. Do white racists discriminate between non-whites? I have never heard of such a thing.

As for Asians "working together" in the way complained of by black activists, the only evidence I have of that from my own experience, is the practice whereby an Asian seller of a business will lend his purchaser the money to buy. It is true that I have not seen that done across ethnic lines, but I think it could happen if the business terms were right. Even if it is only possible between Asians, because blacks don't trust each other enough, neither do whites. So that can hardly be the problem.

The obvious other type of "working together" (Asian family members sharing the risks and rewards of a business) is open to anyone. It is no-one else's fault if blacks (and whites) choose not to do it.

The attacks on Asian shopkeepers, if they were white on black, would be called "hate crimes". In this instance, the police are swift to deny that and to claim that they don't represent the true state of community relations in Lozells.

Racism or not, it seems to be a repetition of a pattern whereby disadvantaged communities in Britain perpetuate their own problems by externalising them; by blaming them on others. Why do blacks in Lozells not see the Asian shopkeepers as a positive example of what can be achieved by enterprise and effort? Why not try to emulate their success, rather than resent it? Sadly, one could ask many Scots, Welsh or English Northerners the same question. The "others" are a ready-made excuse, which obviates the need to try. One can luxuriate in the glorious status of oppressed minority, benefitting from every civilised person's respect and sympathy, without lifting a finger. You may be poor, but the Guardian loves you, and the National Theatre can be relied upon to glorify your noble poverty at regular intervals.

In a sense the white English are to blame for everyone else's problems. If they weren't there as an excuse (and if they had not legitimised that excuse by creating such institutions as the Commission for Racial Equality) these problems could not exist.

Until minorities understand that by using others as scapegoats they perpetuate their problems, nothing can change. Certainly, the scapegoats' bleating will not help. Perhaps a greater reluctance to be tethered and slashed might?

Already, one can detect a new aspiration in British society. To get the full benefits of membership, one must belong to an oppressed minority. Hence the increasing suggestion that to be assaulted, murdered or raped is worse if one belongs to a "minority" rather than being a horror which all humans can endure. Hence the growth in lobbying for this or that minority group. The truth is that we are all in a minority of one and our best chance of success is to work with people from other such minorities, in whatever way achieves the best results!

We have chosen to pretend that we live in the idealised multicultural harmony that we desire. The common areas in our ethnic Venn diagram comprise the most educated and civilised members of the different communities. They do the Guardian crossword together in the wine bar and reflect complacently on our society's achievements. Life in Lozells, and places like it, is not quite like that. But it could be, if people didn't destroy their potential by denying it exists; if they didn't excuse their failures by blaming them on others before even trying.

Facing facts, and speaking the truth to each other might be hard, but it could be our only way forward as a nation.

BBC NEWS | UK | Fear and rumours grip Birmingham

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