Manual Oriental Identities in Super-Diverse Britain: Young Vietnamese in London

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Political correctness may also have inhibited the police in Tower Hamlets, east London, from investigating with sufficient rigour allegations that Britain's first directly elected Asian mayor, Lutfur Rahman, cheated his way to re-election in Some politicians, including the odd Conservative, remain in denial over the bigotry to which Muslim children were exposed in those Birmingham state schools that were part of the "Trojan Horse" plot.

And yet promoting integration has become the shared aspiration of all major political parties. They talk endlessly about the importance of "social cohesion". The problem is that they talk in grand generalities. The national conversation over how to forge a common life between Britain's very diverse and rapidly expanding ethnic minorities and everyone else has been conducted in an absence of hard empirical data about what's actually happening on the ground.

Oriental Identities in Super-Diverse Britain: Young Vietnamese in London by Tamsin Barber

Last week, the think tank Demos tried to rectify that by launching its "integration hub" website, which has pulled together all the available data on minorities: where they live, their work and welfare, social and everyday life, education and attitudes and identity, and - crucially - how they interact with the majority white British. Funded mainly by the Home Office, this work has been championed by former Director of Demos David Goodhart, whose book The British Dream brilliantly captures with crunchy facts and anecdotes Britain's post-war transformation by immigration.

Here's how this migrant tidal force is changing Britain:. The capital's overall white-BME ratio is - roughly where some demographers think most of the country will be in another 50 years. The Demos Hub's stand-out statistic, however, signals a growing separation between ethnic minorities and whites.

Around 41 per cent 4. This compares with when 25 per cent 1 million of the BME population was living in "minority-majority" wards. This is happening because ethnic minorities have been moving from their traditional areas of concentration into super diverse areas - eg Bangladeshis moving from Tower Hamlets to neighbouring Redbridge. At the same time whites have been moving away from these areas into whiter ones.

So, while ethnic minorities are becoming less segregated from each other, whites are becoming more segregated from them. It's not yet possible to measure the impact of this BME-white segregationist trend, partly because the record levels of immigration sustained since means that minority communities are being constantly replenished.

Moreover, integration is a difficult concept to measure objectively, not least because it means different things to different people. To Demos it means "convergence in life chances and to a lesser extent in lived experience between the largest ethnic groups". Goodhart cautions that this doesn't mean everyone should be converging on the values or lifestyle norms set by the white British majority. But we should start to worry "if certain groups are diverging too far" from each other - especially in economic life and education because upward mobility for minorities is tougher if they aren't connected to mainstream networks.

Also, for trust to transcend ethnic boundaries, there needs to be a degree of cultural commonality. In practice a well integrated society is one where both ethnic minorities and the majority converge by adapting to one another such that "habits and preferences are no longer correlated with race and ethnicity", as Trevor Phillips, the Integration Hub Chair, puts it. On the other hand, too much convergence and you get assimilation - something that most ethnic minorities, including Jews, have held out against.

And, just because an ethnic minority is integrated doesn't necessarily end in a success story. The data emerging from the Demos Hub shows us what a complex business integration is - and how little we have drilled down into its detail. So where does the line of convergence ideally lie?


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The story of how Britain's oldest religious minority transitioned from migrants dismissed as alien to the mainstream of Britain's cultural economic and political life offers the answer. Today, Jews still concentrate in certain suburbs, so residentially remain largely separate. They also remain distinctly Jewish in other ways - some 60 percent of school-age Jewish children attend Jewish schools mostly state funded and about 75 per cent of British Jews are affiliated to synagogues where Hebrew is taught. Yet Jews have also been determined to take their place among wider society.

Oriental Identities in Super-Diverse Britain

They did not have government welfare, nor did they wait until some council official begged them to learn English, at state expense. They took upon themselves the task of integration and have achieved an enviable rate of social mobility by prioritising education and material success.

As Rabbi Sacks has said: "Jews did not seek multiculturalism.

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They sought to integrate, adapt and belong. Jewish schools focused on turning Jews into British citizens. This trajectory of strong cultural retention with upward mobility is also turning Sikh, Hindu and Chinese migration into a success story, both significantly outperforming the UK population as a whole when it comes to university degrees. This has increasingly connected them to wider society beyond their cultural community in business and the professions.

As for the huge influx of white eastern Europeans, we might expect them to follow the more assimilatory trajectory of Irish migrants to Britain with intermarriage, residency and socio-economic profiles, in time mirroring the population as a whole. If the Jewish version of separatism and Irish assimilation are the two trajectories that historically have broadly characterised integration here, where does that leave British Muslims?

Like Jews, Hindus Sikhs and the Chinese, Muslims are also determined to maintain their own culture and identity. What they don't yet seem to have in sufficient vigour is the same positive attitudes towards wider society. In Muslim communities, the much stronger sense of a separate way of life is striking not only because institutional structures like halal shops, mosques, madrassas and Islamic organisations like charities are so much more obvious but also because they are much more numerous.

And without more interaction with wider society, monocultural schools reinforce this separateness. The greatest challenge to a settled line of convergence is posed by Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Somalis. According to the Muslim Council of Britain, the proportion of Muslims who have never worked is almost five times the rest of the population, resulting in much lower household incomes.

Largely explained by purdah banning female contact with unrelated men , low income and poor English remain major barriers to social mobility for Muslims, although there have been advances in some Muslim work rates and degree attainment. At the same time, religious identity for Muslims is growing rapidly while for Christianity it's dying. By , although Christianity will still be Britain's largest religious block, it will no longer represent most Britons.

Islam is already the second largest faith block in Britain and far outnumbers Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews combined.

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Therefore the number of segregated Muslim neighbourhoods seems likely to grow. Inequalities in access to class-based resources and dispositions, however, result in variations in lifestyle, causing different sets of visibilities and invisibilities and different forms of knowing. We now consider further how children negotiate and explore difference. Holloway et al. We found that social class and ethnic markers, at times, infiltrate the discussions children had around identity with children making bids for credible status and cultural capital.

Materiality was again a key site for these delineations to be made see above, for example, with Ethan and Megan. However, in Junction school with its large number of Muslim children, religious identity was also significant. In Burgundy class, among these children, going to after-school Quranic classes was common, and Eid which took place during the fieldwork was an exciting event.

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In contrast to anti-Muslim discourses circulating in the wider political and social world, in Burgundy class, Muslim identity was of high status, to the extent that one girl, not from a practising Muslim family, claimed that identity for herself. Kim describes her best friend Mehreen who is of Muslim background. The children debate what it means to be a Muslim and its intersection with other identities:.

Kim: [Mehreen] is kind of like [me], because we are Muslims she is my Islamic sister.

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I know I am a Muslim. Abner: Not like — she is a Muslim but not like a strict one. The ones that are proper. Muslims, you are not like a proper Muslim. Kim appears to want to identify with being Muslim in order to bring her closer to her friend Mehreen. This exchange, which was one among a few, shows the children negotiating difference in order to produce high status identities. The exchange highlights the dynamic nature both of identities — in this instance religious identity — and the processes of identification that children engage in as they emphasise particular identity markers in different contexts, allowing them to develop affective relationships with a range of peers.

This idea of shifting identities in a mixed classroom around Islam is also highlighted in the work of Zine Furthermore, Huber and Spyrou describe this ability of children to cross borders, form new boundaries and blur boundaries as being a means of appropriating, reinterpreting or subverting dominant norms.

They argue that the trading of different discourses by children could allow for them to cope with stigma and ethnic stereotype and produce more inclusive identities. Like Connolly , we would also suggest that the social competencies of young children allow them to reflect on and intervene in their own social worlds. This highlights the agency and ability of children to interact within different social environments and adapt their behaviour according to different contexts.

Investigating the friendships of children in super-diverse primary school settings allows us to explore how children from varied social, religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds negotiate the complexities of their particular micro-environments. The children viewed diversity as an ordinary part of their everyday lives, but at the same time, as something that is the subject of celebratory phenomenon by their schools.

These two positionings — the ordinary and the celebratory — make up a social terrain which they are required to negotiate and manage. We have suggested that the children drew on a multidimensional awareness of difference to make sense of their worlds and friendship relations. In this context, the children in the study appeared to be able to participate across difference in proto-skilled ways, to generally mix competently and without major tensions or frequent recourse to racialisation and othering. We would stress that these capacities were partial and uneven. This highlights how context and situation are very much part of friendship relations.

However, this process is partial — the children do not have complete freedom here, as their peers, parents and teachers are all engaged in additional readings of them, their social relationships and perceived social competencies. However, despite this, the ability of the children to negotiate different identities according to setting and context allowed for the management of friendships across difference, and we have focused on religious identities as an example here.

We can conclude that children in the study could and did form friendships across class, ethnic and religious difference, but that their practices of friendship-making also reflect the influence of dimensions of social division.