I was invited by Jan Bradburn of Manchester City Council to attend this government consultation meeting on its Green Paper Integrated Communities Strategy. The consultation was led by Pasha Shah, Senior Policy advisor from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and his colleagues who were involved in the drafting of the strategy.
The general consensus of the attendees was that the paper placed too much emphasis on ethnic minorities as the cause of the lack of integration. Even though it was acknowledged that the paper recognised that integration is a “two way street” (in direct contrast to the Casey Review), it was felt that this sentiment was undermined by not mentioning the integration responsibilities of the ethnic majority in any detailed terms. This feeling was compounded by the observation that the attendees were majority non-white with only two white participants in the room. We felt that although the ethnic imbalance in the room was no fault of the organisers (or anyone else’s), it did symbolise the wider challenges around the lack of willingness of the ethnic majority to engage with issues around integration.
We also discussed the lack of explicit presence of structural racism in the green paper. We were told that focusing on race constituted compartmentalising the green paper and its potential integration suggestions. I had to point out that when BAME people, in particular, young black men who are still disproportionately more unemployed than their white working class counterparts (this even includes black male graduates), young black men are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system a la the Lammy Review and the list goes on, it becomes pernicious not to see race and racial discrimination as an overarching theme (i.e. not a compartmental theme) for social inequalities. The question was asked about the relationship between this green paper and the Race Disparity Audit. No clear explanation of the link was given, as we were told that these issues were dealt with by the Race Disparity Audit. We asked why this paper was not built on the conclusions of the Audit. No real response was given. We felt that race and its structural discrimination was being sidelined. We urged the team to not do this and make it central.
An interesting point was made, however, about the role that (some) ethnic minorities play in a lack of integration. I think this is a fair point but leads to a wider discussion about ethnic minorities being clumped together as a BAME group with very little detailed distinction between the historical narratives of the various ethnic groups that constitute each letter of the acronym. The green paper’s suggestion of setting up “community-based conversation clubs” really reminded me of the old Community Relations Boards, which served to artificially homogenise the diverse ethnic (colonial) narratives into a singular “political blackness” of opposition to racial discrimination. I am not entirely sure that going back to this would be a wise move. We need to have the space for all ethnic groups to freely and honestly discuss their differences – I am thinking especially in terms of the pervasive anti-blackness that seems to be a stubbornly embedded mindset in certain communities. In my formal (written) feedback to the consultation team, which was more focused on supplementary schools and their role in community integration, I made the point that these conversations are already being conducted across the wider communities that these schools serve (bearing in mind that supplementary schools tend to be set up and run voluntarily by parents).
Jan and I are planning a series of wider green paper consultations with our Manchester supplementary schools in May. We will keep you posted on their insights….