Interculturalism is a word that sounds as if it was dreamt up by a bureaucrat. It’s ugly and unwieldy. But it tells us something vitally important.
A better phrase would be bridge-building or co-operation. It’s all about learning to understand each other and live together. And there’s precious little of it going on in many of the places that need it most.
New Start's cover feature this week tells the story of efforts to bridge cultural divides in Leicester. It points out the successes, but also the difficulties in sustaining the work of encouraging people out of their safety zones.
Over the last week I’ve been reading The new East End, the Young Foundation’s study of relationships and conflicts between white working class East Enders and Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets. It’s an illuminating picture of how policies designed to prioritise individual needs can inadvertently fuel hostility and racism.
Similarly, last week’s report on progress in Burnley since the riots of 2001 highlights the way regeneration strategies designed to help the neediest had unintended consequences. Racial tension explodes when people not only fail to communicate, but also believe they are being treated unfairly.
We need to heed the warnings. The sight of hundreds of (mainly white) police officers swarming into the home of a Bengali family on what seems to be inaccurate ‘intelligence’ of a terrorist attack puts our lack of understanding into sharp focus.
We miss these connections at our peril. National security is too important to be left to the agents of the state. We create security by building bridges between communities, families and institutions.
We can all learn from black and minority ethnic groups here. They routinely suspend suspicion and cultural differences to make common cause for equality. They know they can achieve more as partners than by fighting their own corners.
The new East End reveals how the dilution of a culture of mutual aid and reciprocity has contributed to perceptions of unfairness. The Leicester study shows what can be done when different communities work together rather than simply sample each others’ cultures. The challenge is to make such bridge-building integral to every policy to promote sustainable communities.
Julian Dobson, editor
- New Start Online Online magazine