Why multiculturalism has not succeeded in the UK

Recent evidence has shown that multiculturalism in the UK has not succeeded in fostering a sense of belonging among minorities, and it has paid little attention to how to sustain support among the white population. A recent David Cameron speech on immigration warns of a ‘discomfort and disjointedness’ in communities with large immigrant populations. This speech, along with his earlier comments that ‘State multiculturalism’ has failed, signal a new policy towards immigration and migrant communities by the government.

And recent research has found that continued separation between communities does not create a feeling of belonging amongst migrant groups. Many communities such as Asian, Arab, and Eastern European, are totally ‘insular’ and do not encourage acceptance of other races or cultures. And the greatest failing of multiculturalism, is that it has failed to create a sense of belonging among British minorities and paid too little attention to how to sustain support among the white population.

However, in our view, the failure of multiculturalism started with the misunderstanding of what multiculturalism really is. British whites believe that all it takes is to put people of different races and cultures together and you will have multiculturalism. But as the current results have shown, this is clearly not what multiculturalism actually is. In simple terms, real multiculturalism is having ‘those’ different races and cultures all living together (not in their own secular communities) in harmony, and accepting of each other’s differences.

Way back in 1981, Lord Scarman was commissioned by the UK Government following the 1981 Brixton riots, to investigate and write a report on his findings by the ‘then’ Home Secretary, William Whitelaw. Scarman’s report was published on November 25, 1981, and said that Brixton was undergoing deep social and economic problems (high unemployment, high crime, poor housing, no amenities) in a predominantly African-Caribbean community. He also said that there was deep-rooted institutional racism among white Britons. 

According to the Scarman report, the riots were a spontaneous outburst of built-up resentment sparked by particular incidents. Lord Scarman stated that complex political, social and economic factors created a disposition towards violent protest. The Scarman report highlighted problems of racial disadvantage and inner city decline, warning that urgent action was needed to prevent racial disadvantage becoming an endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society.

During his investigation of the cause of the riots, Scarman was told by community leaders that one of the main causes for the problem was institutional racism. However, the media misinterpreted this to me that it was The Metropolitan Police which was institutionally racist. And herein lay the reason why multiculturalism is failing. In truth, institutional racism does not lay merely with uniformed organisations, private and corporate companies, or local or central government departments. Institutional racism is a state of (white) mind. Almost like a genetic coding.

And as it’s these genetically coded white people who form the basis of these organisations, companies or departments, it’s not surprising that the likes of The Metropolitan Police would be considered institutionally racist. Therefore, multiculturalism itself is not the problem. We believe that the problem lies squarely on the shoulders of a misunderstanding of what multiculturalism really is. It is not about getting a large number of different ethnic minority communities to live together and then call it multiculturalism. All that will happen is that those communities will become inward-looking and insular (very often racist) – a situation which has been the problem in Britain.

Multiculturalism is about people of different races and cultures living harmoniously together (not as separate communities), and in acceptance of each other’s uniqueness and differences. Britain’s vision of multiculturalism is the idea that, if one makes immigrants feel welcome by allowing them to retain their culture and by seeking to address discrimination against them, immigrants will reciprocate by embracing a British identity and the values needed for a harmonious society. But instead, what we need in this country is a ‘melting pot’ which will turn everybody out in a common mould, as one of a series of citizens who – first and foremost – sees themselves as British.

It is totally unrealistic to expect Eastern Europeans, who have clearly stated their racist views towards black people, to live harmoniously among them. And you cannot expect Asians - who feel the same way - to accept the many cultural and racial differences without a fight. There is a feeling that some immigrant groups have no intention to integrate. People of all ethnicities are much more likely to report feeling that they belong if they are treated fairly and with respect. However, there is another important aspect in which multiculturalism has failed. Indications are that segments of the white population feel they are neglected and discriminated against, and do not feel a part of British society. 

A Britain rich with integration, filled with equal opportunity, and accompanied by cultural diversity, is the only way to foster ‘real’ multiculturalism. So, the biggest failure of multiculturalism is not that it has failed to create a sense of belonging among minorities, but that it has paid too little attention to how to sustain support among parts of the white population. Scepticism about the ability to retain an ethnic or religious identity while being British, and a growing conflict over resources (especially access to social housing) with immigrants and minorities, are just some of the concerns that will need to be addressed.