by Abdul Siddique
The response to our recent training event ‘Building community cohesion in to practice: strategies for front line professionals’ has left me overwhelmed and humbled. I am happy to see that individuals on our frontline i.e. community development workers, coordinator’s, teachers, social workers (to name a few) are increasingly concerned that their appears to be a gap between the policy rhetoric on community cohesion and the reality on the ground. Therefore it came as a no surprise to me when I found myself at a certain round table discussion, in a certain city with certain community cohesion leads; where one of them made the remark that leads as the headline to this article. I don’t know whether the fact he actually said this left me aghast or the eagerness of other members of the group to run with his idea.
First thing first, why the dudes and no dudettes? Why the obsession with outfits? and what ethnic groups would be included in his definition of ‘coloured?’. I will leave the analysis of these ideas for another day.
On a serious note how can we have such a cavalier attitude to building community cohesion? It constitutes the very fabric of our society and is being stretched, torn and dyed by daily events that are shaping the perceptions of our communities and the quality of their interactions.
Community cohesion is not about ‘saris, samosas and steel drums’. Community cohesion is about moving away from utilising difference as the sole marker for meaningful conversation and interactions. It’s about focusing on the similarities inherent within our common aspirations and common vision of progress both for our neighbourhoods and the people that reside within them.Community cohesion is about celebrating our shared values i.e. freedoms, democracy, rule of law and respect, not dwelling on our personal preferences and selfish interests that often do not venture beyond the garden gate.
Viewing BME communities solely through the lens of their culture (as we have done for too long) belittles both the rich, economic and social contributions they have made to Britain. In 2016, for instance, the BME business population contributed £30 billion to the British economy. Such tunnel vision also betrays the grand idea of establishing an ultimately peaceful, progressive and stable society.
In order for communities to rub along cohesively inequalities in all their forms need to be tackled and aspirations need to be met. These are one of the key issues that bubble beneath the surface of community tensions. Equality of opportunity is not enough; we must have equality of outcome.
A case in point, there has been a steady increase of 6-8% of BAME students studying for qualifications in the medicine, law, media and finance professions. Yet in the judicial system white individuals fill a staggering 93% of influential posts whilst in academia there are no Black people in top roles and in the NHS 99% of chief executives of trusts are white. Given that BME progression in the jobs market could add £24 billion a year to our economy, it is in all our interests to ensure that we work towards cohesive communities.
The problem with our approach in the past was to place emphasis on different coloured dudes and their outfits and foolishly believe that this was the sort of thing that would heal the deep seated, multi-faceted issues that unraveled and manifested in mass riot and public unrest.
I believe that the multicultural approach that we have adopted in the past has been largely influenced by a ‘vacation mindset’, in that just as we eagerly go abroad, reluctantly taste the local delicacies, get our names written in the local language on a plague for a front room wall ready to gloat about our ‘well travelled’ roots, listen to the local music and sigh at local folklore and tales, only to ‘snap out’ of this when we return back to the UK and go about our business.
In a similar fashion we utilise this ‘vacation mindset’ here in the United Kingdom where we feel that putting on one or two cultural events is sufficient to promote community relations. Although the policy landscape has shifted somewhat from earlier iterations, the reality on the ground does not appear to have caught up. What is striking is that despite the knifes edge upon which many community relations stand, the same ‘vacation mindset’ approach is being implemented by community leaders to pay lip service to the cohesion agenda.
The way forward is robust community cohesion training for professionals, coupled with creative initiatives that are led by the community and third sector, backed by government and supported by our leaders. It has the synergy and potential to transform our society. As for the individual who made the comment on ‘dudes with outfits’ apparently he went on vacation to Spain, Hola!
To book your place on our training event ‘building community cohesion in to practice strategies for front line professionals’ taking place on: 23rd November 2017 10am-4pm at: All souls, Bolton, you can visit our website; www.flowhesionfoundation.org.uk and book through the Cpd/training page or email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.