Tuesday, 09 March 2010

Ethnicity and racism: contradictions and realities I picked up a claim the other day that the standard survey question (eg in the Place Survey) "to which of these groups do you consider you belong...?" obliges people to classify themselves in racist terms. I think this may be as much about instinctive resistance to being pigeonholed (a sentiment with which I have much sympathy) as it is about confusion between ethnic categorisation and racism. But I could be wrong. Racism is crackling away in this country as our politicians (well, some of them) grapple with unfamiliar pre-election tensions, amid predictions of extremist opportunism in the gloomy economic climate. I've just started a piece of work helping my colleague Alison Gilchrist prepare a literature review on 'race inequalities,' which concentrates the mind thoroughly. The volume of practice-related material published in the last few years suggests that the problem hasn't gone away, and may indeed have got worse. Then yesterday I was in Luton on a study visit, and a woman stood up and said how delighted she had been to come to a country where there is so much tolerance, acceptance and understanding of diversity. She had come to England as a refugee from Bosnia in 1992. The discussion dwelt for a moment on the claim of emerging extremism in white nationalist and muslim groups, and she was asked whether she felt that a conflict comparable to the Bosnian war could break out here. The day before war broke out, she said, it would never have occurred to her or her family that it might. The eruption of 'irrational' violence may have its prominent history in the region, but I suspect it's natural to live in denial of that, and terrifying to find suddenly that your neighbour wants to kill you for reasons that are rational to them but not to you.

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