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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 11:40 GMT
CRE chairman Gurbux Singh on race report
Gurbux Singh, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, answered your questions in a live forum on the day The Home Office published four separate reports into the summer race riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:


The topics discussed in this forum were:

  • Should the CRE be scrapped?
  • How do you see race relations progressing?
  • Integrating into British culture -how?
  • Torn between two cultures?
  • In favour of desegregating schools?
  • Faith based schools.

    Should the CRE be scrapped?

    Mike from Middlesbrough, England: "Isn't it time that the CRE was scrapped, the CRE isn't relevant to white people and does nothing to help them, it refuses to recognise black/Asian racism against whites."
    And Tim Lenihan, England: We talk about prejudice but there are significant numbers of Asian employers in this country who will not employ non-Asians or in a lot of cases non-family members. If that was happening in the white community there would be uproar.

    Gurbux Singh:
    Well clearly I don't agree with Mike's view which is that the CRE should be scrapped, I think the CRE does some very important work and if the CRE wasn't actually here then many of the issues of race discrimination, many of the individuals who come to us to seek redress within the courts, would not get the support and the assistance that we actually provide. There is one point which I think I do want to agree with Mike on and that is that the CRE is concerned and should be concerned about all sections of our communities. We are concerned as much about white people who feel they're victims of discrimination as much as we are concerned about blacks or Asians. And we're trying to reposition the Commission in such a way that that becomes more and more transparent. We are concerned about all sections of our communities, not just Asians and blacks.

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    How do you see race relations progressing?

    Kathryn Woolliscroft, UK: How do you see race relations progressing positively with the advancement of a truly real tolerant multicultural society?

    Gurbux Singh:
    I have to say that I'm very optimistic, I'm very positive about the future. If you look at Britain today, in spite of some of the difficulties that we've witnessed over the last six or eight months in this country, that Britain is a major leader across Europe in developing race equality strategies, we've had race legislation on statute books for well over 25 years which much of the rest of Europe in fact doesn't actually have. I'm extremely optimistic because I think that we've made some serious progress over the last 25-30-40 years since the [indistinct word] communities have been settled. That's not to say that we don't need to make more progress, clearly we have to and we've got recently produced new legislation on the statute book which will, I think, lead to further progress being made. I think that an important thing to note is that Britain is genuinely a multiracial multicultural society, that it is diverse, it celebrates that diversity, it acknowledges that diversity, it embraces that diversity and it accepts that all its citizens, whether they're Asians or blacks or whites, are making a serious contribution to the social and economic wellbeing of society.

    What about this report, do you think it's going to help?

    Gurbux Singh:
    I think clearly there are four reports that have come out today and I think they do point to some deep-seated problems which exist in our midst. Problems of segregation, problems with poor education, poor housing, problems where young people, frankly whether they're white or Asian, simply have no career opportunities for the future and therefore their life chances are hugely restricted. There are some deep divisions within our society. And I think that what these reports point towards is the need for concerted action to eliminate some of those difficulties, to bring communities together, to get communities working together in an integrated way so that we can begin to develop a confidence across each other and across communities. So that we can actually create a more harmonious society in our midst.

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    Integrating into British culture - how?

    Ms M Shylaja: We've been reminded that we need to integrate into the British culture. Can someone please tell me what this culture's all about, all I see around me is unfriendliness - young people having no regard for elders, an alarming rate of indulgence and booze and drugs in the name of socialising, sexual permissiveness and break-up of families. Your comments on this please?

    Gurbux Singh:
    Well I feel sorry that she feels like that because where I live in London I don't see that. Yes we have problems, yes we have problems with drugs and drunkenness and crime and all the things that she talks about but we have to get these things into their proper perspective. There are many, many positive things about Britain, there are many, many successful things about Britain. We've only got to look at British sport or British art or British culture, generally music, there are some many, many positive stories about multicultural Britain. And I think we must learn from each other, we can learn from each other. I think that the most positive thing about Britain is that it is multicultural so that we can share the benefits and secure an enrichment across all our society from the different cultures and traditions that make up modern Britain. That's what makes me feel very positive about the future. Yes there are problems but I think we need to get those problems into their right perspective.

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    Torn between two cultures?

    Gurmit Singh, the Netherlands: What happens when an immigrant is torn between two completely opposing poles of modernity, i.e. the West and the traditional values, say, of the East. And as a result of this inner dilemma he faces he cannot decide which sphere to live in. What do you think?

    Gurbux Singh:
    I'm not sure about ships and the problems that ships cause but most certainly I know many, many young people, and as I've grown up in this country over the last 35-40 years, many, many young people, particularly from Asian backgrounds, who've gone through that sort of cultural crisis because they - many youngsters have been caught up in the midst of the pulls from the cultures of their parents and the pulls from the Western environment in which they operate. Now that is actually a reality and many, many youngsters are going through those difficulties and I feel sorry for those youngsters because they are actually being pulled in different ways. And indeed I, myself, as somebody who arrived in this country at the age of six, went through similar - similar cultural crises, if you like, of being pulled towards the culture of my parents and the Punjab, where I was actually born, and pulled in the other direction by the Western modern environment in which I lived. And the reality is that you eventually pull together and you begin to fuse cultures and you begin to secure the best of both worlds and that is how most certainly I know many young people are tackling these sorts of problems now.

    Do you think it's more difficult now than it was say a few decades ago?

    Gurbux Singh:
    I think it is, it is, you know, and young people have in a sense greater distractions, greater pressures anyway now. I mean most certainly when I was a youngster many, many years ago we didn't have the same sorts of competing pressures and demands that young people have today. And on one level I feel sorry for young people but I do think that those young people also have the resilience and the strength to actually rise to the challenges that they face.

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    In favour of desegregating schools?

    Sanjay Khosla, London: Do you favour desegregating schools and encouraging the need for less faith orientated educational establishments?

    Gurbux Singh:
    I fully agree and I think that there are some real problems in having schools which are mono-cultural, to use the hideous set of words. I think that they are something deeply wrong. I mean those schools may do very well in educational terms but I do think that it is vitally important that all our schools have a cross-mixture of the different communities that make up Britain. So that, for example, the schools that I read about in places like Oldham, where 17 primary schools are 90+% out of one ethnic group. I would actually say that there's something wrong with those schools and what we need to do, through changing the educational policies and practices, is to put in place steps which enable there to be a greater mixing. Now I think that those steps can be put in place. In relation to faith schools, well faith schools have been part of the educational establishment of this country for many hundreds of years and therefore overnight we're not likely to dismantle them. So therefore I think faith schools are here to stay. What we need to ensure is that faith schools are not exclusive and that faith schools should be invited, in the first instance, to welcome into the school population a certain percentage of people who are not of that faith and I believe that faith schools could rise to that challenge and therefore ensure a greater mixing.

    Faith based schools

    Paul Rothwell: The simple fact is that you're not going to be able to make or persuade parents to send children to a faith-based school in which their children would be in the minority - racially and culturally.

    Gurbux Singh:
    I'm not sure that that actually is the case. I know many schools where parents are desperately trying to get their children into those schools, which are faith schools, and yet cannot do so either because they're already full up or alternatively they don't meet the religious criteria. Now I myself would be very happy to send any of my children to a Catholic school or a C of E school, if it was a good school. I mean the fundamental issue, as far as parents are concerned and I'm a parent with three very young children, the fundamental issue is the quality of education that young people get in their schools. If it's a high attaining school, if the school is doing well, if the environment in the school is positive, then I think parents will want to send them to schools irrespective of what faith those schools are.

    How key is this issue of schooling?

    Gurbux Singh:
    I think schooling is fundamentally important. There are some real and very deep seated problems within our school system where sections of our schools [sic] leave school having done significantly less well. If you're Afro-Caribbean and male, if you're now Pakistani or Bangladeshi, or if you're a white working class youngster, you will leave school having done significantly less well when compared with the rest of the school population. And that will have a devastating impact in the longer-term life chances of those youngsters. So what we need to do is to begin to address the problems of under-achievement within our schools, we need to address the issues of exclusion because if you're Afro-Caribbean and male you're four, five, six times more likely to be excluded from within the school population. So those - there are some real fundamental issues around education that we need to tackle. Education is also, don't forget, the vehicle through which we exchange understanding and knowledge and I think that schools need to be the principle vehicles through which different cultures are actually understood and that's one of the other reasons why I want to see schools that are genuinely mixed, so that young people can share their experiences, their home experiences, their cultural experiences, their religious experiences, can genuinely share those, exchange them, so that we all are more informed about each other. That I think is actually part of the root cause of some of the difficulties that we face in this country - the absence of understanding of our views, of other people's views and other people's attitudes.

    Mr Gurbux Singh thank you for taking all those very varied e-mails, thanks for joining us. And that's it, that's all from the BBC's interactive Forum for now, I'm Emma Simpson.

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  • See also:

    11 Dec 01 | England
    Race 'segregation' caused riots
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