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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Commission for Racial Equality debate
A parade to celebrate the birth of the the Prophet Muhammad
A parade to celebrate the birth of the the Prophet Muhammad
What is "segregation"? Is it increasing? And does it matter?

These questions were debated at a conference organised by the Commission for Racial Equality, last November.

The principal speakers were Ludi Simpson, Reader in Social Statistics at the University of Manchester, and Ted Cantle, government advisor on community cohesion.

Ludi Simpson argued both that the degree of segregation between whites and Muslim Asians was overstated and that the dangers of segregation were a fantasy.

He said the "sustained questioning of the rights of minorities" was "damaging", and that "isolation and resistance to integration applies mainly to the white population."

For him, population changes are entirely predictable, with growing black and Asian communities living in larger neighbourhoods. He questioned what we actually mean by "segregation" - and said the answer appeared to be focussed on areas where there were a low number of whites.

A parade to celebrate St George's day
A parade to celebrate St George's day
Yet no electoral ward in Britain has fewer than 10% white British, and no one talked about the many many areas where whites numbered 95% of the total population.

He said that in those towns and cities with black and Asian minorities, they too were moving out to the suburbs when they could afford it.

They shared the same aspirations as whites for decent houses in a mixed area, and this mirrored the Irish and Jewish experience. However, hostility from some in the white community sometimes prevented Asians from moving where they'd like to move.

On the dangers of segregation, Simpson said there was no evidence that terrorism was connected to a high proportion of the Muslim population. The increase in segregation in schools was linked to natural population growth.

For him, the biggest danger of "segregation" was the label itself: it condemned people to exclusion and stoked up tensions. Instead we should be respecting difference and trying to work together.

Ted Cantle said it was undoubtedly the case that the white community was resistant to change and reluctant to accept mixed communities.

The term "segregation" might be past its sell-by date: there exists a complex pattern of diversity. "Segregation" implied imposition by law or economics whereas "self-segregation" was by choice and therefore seen as more positive. But it was difficult to distinguish between the two.

What segregation means on the ground is the disproportionate concentration of particular communities.

And the answer to the question: "Are we sleep-walking towards increasing polarisation of communities rather than segregation?" Was yes.

There was increasing segregation

  • In schools (59% of children in Bradford attend schools with a single identity.)

  • In housing, where there was anecdotal evidence of "considerable neighbourhood separation". In Blackburn, numerous people described "white flight". This was clearly racially motivated.

    The risk with "parallel lives" was that parties like the BNP could exploit myths and rumours and it was easy to stir up tensions. Anyway, should our children be growing up without experience of a multi-cultural society?

    It was not now simply about residential segregation - but a more serious compound effect.

    Panorama: White Fright will be broadcast on Monday 7 May at 2030 BST on BBC One.

    Or watch online on the Panorama website

    Britain's growing ethnic division
    07 May 07 |  Panorama
    Interview with Professor Webber
    07 May 07 |  Panorama
    Interview with Ted Cantle
    07 May 07 |  Panorama
    Locating communities in Blackburn
    07 May 07 |  Panorama


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