Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Diversity Divisions

Another fascinating Prospect piece by David Goodhart, a reflection on responses to his original essay on diversity and immigration which caused such a storm in Guardianista country.

"After publication, most white readers, whether they agreed with the general drift or not, accepted it as a perfectly legitimate argument.

With non-white readers the reactions were more complex. It is not true, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown claimed in a column attacking me, that: "Not one non-white Briton has defended the Goodhart thesis." I have received many letters and emails of support from non-whites. Other non-white academics and commentators, such as Shamit Saggar, Kenan Malik and Anshuman Mondal (each of whom has posted a brief reply on the Prospect website), have disagreed in emphasis or detail but in a spirit of mutual exploration of a difficult topic.

Then there is a third group of non-whites who feel personally affronted. They will not engage with the argument in abstract, aggregate terms but see only some atavistic nationalist trying to exclude them - Suhkvinder Stubbs, former head of the Runnymede Trust, and Gary Younge of the Guardian even bristled at my use of the word "we" meaning British citizens. They were reading a piece which said: "diversity is bad, roll it back," rather than the actual piece which said: "diversity is desirable but let's make sure that it doesn't leave cohesion behind."

These are emotional issues. But some of the responses just seemed indulgent and knee-jerk - as if I was attacking a religious faith, which is perhaps what diversity has become to some people."

So far so predictable as far as reactions go. But Goodhart's analysis of this reaction is interesting and has a lot of truth in it. People on the political and cultural left in Britain have no problem with the concerns of Palestinians about Jewish immigration to the West Bank, or more parochially the concerns of Welsh people about the death of their culture as more and more English flee England. But just let an Englishman express unease about levels of immigration (not to mention emigration as the educated English leave for everywhere from Auchermuchty to Auckland) and you may as well start wearing jackboots to church.

"Historically, especially for people on the left, there has been a direct link between anti-racism and support for the widest possible open door for migrants into Britain. Anybody, especially a white person, who expresses concern at some of the costs of mass immigration - as I did in one part of the essay - is seen as in some way questioning the status of existing ethnic minority citizens. But this is nonsense - as I tried to say to the rather sceptical Greenwich seminar. If we are to have a sensible debate we must now decouple these two arguments, as most Britons in practice do. This is no longer the 1960s. It is possible to be a committed anti-racist and yet favour a hard-headed debate about the pros and cons of large-scale immigration."

Well - you can try.