More racism – what gets asked gets answered

I’ve just got back from CDF’s conference on integration (http://www.cdf.org.uk/pooled/articles/BF_EVENTART/view.asp?Q=BF_EVENTART_217212 ). I’ll post more about it later, when I’ve had time to assimilate all my thoughts, but first a bit about racism and statistics courtesy of Bhikhu Parekh.

He noted that one statistic on integration that gets bandied about is that of intermarriage. I’ve written about this before, and he has a salient point I missed then. He reminded us that no one ever reports statistics on Japanese/British or American/British intermarriage. Indeed, no one ever reports numbers of continental European / British intermarriage, which could be a good measure of our European integration. Instead we hear about Asian/white intermarriage (usually, otherwise black/white).

Why would this be? Essentially it begins with what Paul Gilroy calls ‘racial thinking’. The assumption is that those with brown skin (even if they’ve grown up in this country and are more British than some colonial white Brits could ever be) are intrinsically different to the paler people. Whereas (so this thinking goes), the Europeans are just like these paler people. But what of the Japanese? Obviously they aren’t seen as a threat – that’s how racism works – and so no one really cares what they do. Of course this is racist. Are we to put pressure on people? Using intermarriage as a measure of integration suggests that marrying white is better, otherwise are ‘you are holding yourself back’. As Parekh pointed out, this is nonsense.
If you ask in terms of race, you get racial analysis. I don’t know how we get out of this bind.

Incidentally, I do have an important criticism of Parekh’s model of a multicultural society. He rightly says that culture is a part of our backgrounds and should be taken into account (therefore western liberal values should not be imposed), but this begs the question of which cultures. He argues that we should be prepared to allow the exercise of deeply held beliefs, even if the host culture finds it deeply wrong, but that this needs to be argued over and justified. Put simply, these beliefs should be admissible as part of the discussion. For example, in his discussion of female circumcision he concedes that someone may have a genuinely deeply held religious belief in its favour and that (in certain circumstances, most importantly the lack of compulsion) it should be allowed. However, I would argue that this is also true of those into extreme body modification.

I agree that we should admit religious or ethnic culture as a valuable part of a persons value system, but this is only just if this includes all kinds of cultures and sub-cultures (e.g. rave culture and squatters, peace activists, , and so on). We can’t define what’s a valid culture on the basis of liberalism (that would be illiberal), and we shouldn’t have a state endorsed list (do Muslims and the white majority count, but not Pagans, Rastas and chavs?).

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