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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Rise of UK's 'inter-ethnic conflicts'
By Cindi John
BBC News community affairs reporter

Banner created after reports of the rape
Rumours of the rape of a black girl sparked the confrontations

As three Asian men are found guilty of killing a black man during riots in Birmingham last year, the BBC News website examines what caused two ethnic minority communities to clash.

In recent years Birmingham has been markedly exempt from the racial clashes that have sporadically affected other towns and cities with large ethnic minority populations.

While northern towns such as Oldham, Burnley and Bradford were plagued with race rioting during the summer of 2001, Birmingham remained calm.

So last year's disturbances in the Lozells area were in sharp contrast to the popular image of Birmingham as a city at ease with its diversity.

Race campaigner Maxie Hayles
The reality is that there's an apartheid situation
Maxie Hayles

But what made the clashes stand out even more was the fact that it was two ethnic minority communities - black and Asian - that were at loggerheads.

Ostensibly, unsubstantiated rumours of the rape of a black woman by Asian men started the violence.

But according to Birmingham race campaigner Maxie Hayles, the trouble was rooted in long-standing division between the two communities.

"Just because people don't throw bricks at each other on a daily basis doesn't mean everything's rosy in the garden," he says.

Economic division

"The allegation of rape was just the straw that broke the camel's back.

"The reality is that there's an apartheid situation. We live in a society where you've got white on top, Asians in the middle and then black at the bottom, particularly in economic terms."

Lozells is an inner-city area that has seen significant change in its ethnic mix. Forty years ago African Caribbeans were its main ethnic minority group.

Lozells Road, Birmingham
Many of the businesses in Lozells are Asian-owned
Today more than half the residents in the area are Asian while the black population has decreased to less than 20%.

As Asians arrived from countries such as Uganda and Kenya, in the 1970s and 80s, they became the mainstay of the area's business community.

Mr Hayles, of the Birmingham Race Attacks Monitoring Unit, says black people now have little economic muscle in the area.

"You'd have to walk miles to find a black-run business in Lozells, even some of the businesses selling Caribbean food like yam, they've been taken over by Asians, forcing African Caribbeans to spend their money with Asian businesses," he says.

Such perceptions of economic disadvantage are mirrored in the situation of many other ethnically-mixed areas around the UK, according to Ted Cantle of the Institute of Community Cohesion.

When it comes to economic issues both the black and Asian communities are suffering
Salma Yaqoob, Birmingham councillor
But Mr Cantle, who wrote a review for the government after the 2001 riots warning of communities living "parallel lives", says until recently such "inter-ethnic conflicts" were not on the agenda of public bodies and the mainstream media.

"There are intertwined things here that's it's difficult to separate out," he says.

"There are these feelings of superiority, of naked racism and a perception of unfairness and that 'they're getting a better deal than us'.

"This is fuelled by the way money has been handed out in the past by putting one group in competition with another."

'Level playing field'

Mr Hayles thinks greater effort should be made to create more equality among Birmingham's ethnic minorities.

"I think local authorities and central government needs to create a more level playing field since they're talking about community cohesion and economics has a part to play within it," he says.

Ted Cantle
Ted Cantle : "commonalities" should be emphasised
But city councillor Salma Yaqoob says in Birmingham both the city's Asian and black communities face "deprivation" and the Asian community is not benefiting at the expense of others.

"When it comes to economic issues both the black and Asian communities are suffering so from my standpoint the communities should be united and collectively coming together to demand those resources", says Ms Yaqoob, who represents the city's Sparkbrook ward.

"It's disastrous that we're being pitted against each other," .

After his report highlighted how competing for funds led to tension among communities, the system was changed says Mr Cantle, although public funding still often favoured particular communities in more subtle ways.

He said: "Funding is often allocated according to need, need is often broken down into ward-based areas and ward-based areas often relate to particular communities.

'Boundaries reinforced'

"What we've actually got to do is look for the commonalities and incentivise working across boundaries and joint projects while at the moment we do exactly the opposite."

But the UK's shifting racial mix and changing definitions complicated matters, he said.

"At one time, going back into the 60s, 70s and even the 80s,"black" was an all-encompassing term, almost a political expression of being in a minority counterposed against a white majority," he says.

"All of that's changed and identities are increasingly fine-tuned and now include faith groups.

"So the pressure is now to work across boundaries but those boundaries are becoming increasingly reinforced."

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