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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 19:07 GMT 20:07 UK
Removing Birmingham's racial divisions
Lozells Road in Birmingham
Birmingham's minorities could soon be in the majority
The government has bowed to pressure to ban a National Front rally planned for Saturday in Birmingham, amid fears it would ignite racial tension in the city.

BBC News Online's community affairs reporter Cindi John visits Birmingham's Handsworth area, which was rocked by race rioting 16 years ago.

Today, Lozells Road in Handsworth, Birmingham, is a thriving multi-cultural commercial area.

But it was a different picture 16 years ago, when it was devastated by the violent rioting which followed the arrest of a black man.

The area is at the heart of the constituency of Khalid Mahmood, the MP for Birmingham Perry Barr.

Khalid Mahmood and constituent
Khalid Mahmood: "Race relations improved"
Walking along the road once scarred by the rioting, he points out the results of the investment pumped into the area afterwards.

Mr Mahmood believes that race relations have vastly improved over the years.

He says his election in June - when he became Birmingham's only non-white MP - proves the city is no longer divided along racial lines.

"The people of Birmingham have shown they want to get together not behind the colour of your skin, but as somebody who's prepared to deliver and do some work for the community," he said.

Aftab Rahmen, manager of a nearby Bangladeshi youth centre, agreed that in general, community relations were good.

Aftab Rahmen
Aftab Rahmen: "Unemployment a problem"

But racism was still a fact of life for many young men of Bangladeshi origin, he added.

"There's a lot of institutional racism which prevents people getting quality work."

The 1991 census showed that about 20% of Birmingham's population came from minority ethnic groups.

Since then, that figure has grown significantly, with ethnic minorities expected to be in the majority in the city by 2011.

South Asians make up the biggest proportion of Birmingham's minority ethnic groups, with the biggest group being people of Pakistani origin.

Ethnic mix in 1991
White: 754,000
Pakistani: 66,000
Black: 56,000
Indian: 51,000
Bangladeshi:13,000
Chinese: 3,000
Others:17,000
(1991 census figures)

Asif Mukhtar, a member of the city's British Pakistani Youth Forum, believes the Pakistani community is well accepted, but says that does not mean the city is especially integrated.

"It's not a fair assumption to make that Birmingham is more integrated than other cities because there's bound to be underlying tension whichever city you go to, whether it's Birmingham, Manchester or London," he said.

There was potential for unrest, like that seen recently further north, he added.

'Divisions remain'

"If someone is going to come up stirring things up and creating hysteria, there's bound to be one or two troublemakers," he said.

"It only takes a few clever political people to find out where they can cause some trouble".

Gargi Bhattacharyya
Gargi Bhattacharyya: "City has many teams"

Gargi Bhattacharyya, a sociologist at Birmingham University, said that although it had not been widely publicised, the city had experienced some degree of racial unrest in recent years.

City areas were still very much carved out along racial lines.

She believes it is the number of different minority groups in the city which gives the impression of a greater degree of racial harmony.

"If you go to somewhere like Bradford it seems as if there is predominantly one migrant community facing off against the majority community," she said.

"I think many of the places where we've seen street stand-offs there's been very much the perception that there's an 'us and them', and that they meet on the street as two teams.

"Birmingham's not like that - there's many teams playing in lots of different places."

Debate

Bringing the "teams" together is the aim of Frahana Rashid, co-ordinator of Birmingham's Social Inclusion Race Empowerment Network (Siren), an initiative set up in tandem with Birmingham's Race Action Partnership.

Frahana Rashid
Frahana Rashid: "Chance to let off steam"

She believes that encouraging people to talk about their differences, in debates on race issues organised by Siren, is one way of bringing them closer together.

"I think it gives people the chance to let off some steam and it's also a chance to challenge each other.

"What we're doing is bringing together people who wouldn't normally meet, and they're able to think about different things and perhaps change the way they look at things and then really take it forward."



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31 Jul 01 | UK
NF Birmingham rally banned
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