he recent riots in Bradford and Oldham are of a different
nature than the widespread disturbances which occurred throughout
Britain in the 80s. These riots were riots of inclusion,
fight back against the whole catalogue of social exclusions:
police racism, unemployment, political marginalisation and
impotence. They were not propelled by racism but against racism.
In contrast these more recent disturbances have a more sinister
aspect; sections of the community have become pitted against
each other, racist stereotypes and ethnic prejudice have been
mobilised and the aim on both sides has, at times, been to
exclude, separate and divide. Whereas the uprisings of the
Eighties were never remotely race riots, those of today teeter
on the edge of this category. Such events create dangerous
opportunities for the parties of the far right, but they are
the beneficiaries rather than the causes of such inter-community
conflict. Of course unemployment and economic exclusion lies
behind both the events of the Eighties and today. But the
shape of the disturbances is very different and it is here
that problems of identity and multiculturalism have had their
In his comparative study of the comparison between Woodlawn
in South Chicago and La Courneuve in the outer ring of Paris,
Lois Wacquant, notes the dramatic contrast between the extreme
segregation of Chicago and the mixed population of Paris.
"Racial enclaves", he notes, are "unknown in
France and in all of Europe for that matter". The diverse
populations of the great European metropolises are one of
the most significant achievements - however unintended - of
late modernity. In the London Borough of Hackney, for example,
there is probably not a majority population - it is a constituency
of intermixed diversity, an enclave of minorities. But Wacquant's
observations, however true of great sections of our cities
and reinforced by high rates of intermarriage and friendship,
are not true of certain areas where housing provision, schools
and the fears of racism have begun to create segregation and
mono-culturalism. Bradford and Oldham are examples of this,
as are the more exceptional situations in Belfast and Derry.
In America the exceptional degree of spatial segregation
has been underscored by an ideology of multiculturalism and
communitarianism. Writers as diverse as Zygmunt Bauman, Robert
Hughes and Tod Gitlin have pointed out, conventional notions
of multiculturalism, however liberal in their intent, have
potentially reactionary consequences. In a late modern world,
where people increasingly create their own sense of identity
and culture, multiculturalism encourages exactly the opposite:
to go to your roots and find your "true" self. Such
a fixed essence is then contrasted with 'Others' (Catholics
against Protestants, Islam against non-Islam, White against
Black) and allows prejudice to be based on notions of fixed
differences. A multiculturalism which seeks tolerance paradoxically
creates the conditions for prejudice and intolerance.
One solution to this problem is communitarianism, a mosaic
of separate communities, each homogeneous in their own values,
and secure in their own identities. But as the US experience
has shown the mosaic constantly frays at the edges, there
is, in Tod Gitlin's haunting phrase, a 'twilight of common
dreams', each community sets itself up against each other,
competitive, exclusive and prejudiced in their attitudes.
What can be done? First of all we need to solve the problem
of economic exclusion which fuels the antagonisms between
the communities. Secondly, we must tackle the very notion
of multicultural communities which underscore so much of conventional
thinking - left and right - and which facilitates such antagonisms.
The rational solution to dividing the world into binaries
- them and us - as the New York radical philosopher Nancy
Fraser has stressed, is to deconstruct the binaries - not
to shore them up. This involves setting our goal on a new
sort of multiculturalism - a multiculturalism of genuine diversity.
A diverse society is one where there is genuine choice, where
there is a mix of traditions, where the stress is on the ongoing
creation of culture rather than the inheritance of a weighty
tradition. A diverse society is not Oldham or Bradford, where
fixed and monolithic cultures confront one another, nor is
it the neo-tribalism of Northern Ireland where tradition is
glorified and the problems of identity are seemingly solved
by consulting the fixed geographical contours of an atlas.
In contrast, genuine cultural diversity is about creating
new lifestyles and values; this involves the hybridisation
of culture rather than the pursuit of a fake authenticity.
It is, in fact, the actual lived culture that young people
in schools which recruit from a wider range of ethnic and
class backgrounds create everyday of the week. The enemy of
this diversity is segregated housing policies, single faith
schools, backward looking community leaders, and, above all,
the glib allocation of people to fixed ethnic categories.
This is not the old story of assimilation where the 'host'
country absorbs the immigrant minority. It is not Melanie
Phillips' prescription for the riots: a new assimiliationism
- a melting pot - where everyone comes out culturally 'white'
and terribly English. In the politics of diversity everybody
changes and the hallmark of progress is a multiculturalism
which overlaps, blurs and merges, which does not constantly
reinvent the past but looks forward to the future.
Jock Young is Professor of Criminology at Middlesex University
and author of The Exclusive Society, Sage, 1999.