Celebrate multiculturalism —
get active against racism
Ruqayyah Collector, NUS Black Students Officer
Britain is a dynamic and successful multicultural society. Our college and university campuses are often powerful examples of how diversity enriches our cultural life and economy. The massive contribution that successive generations of new migrants have brought to this country should be celebrated.
However, recent attacks on the idea of multiculturalism have painted it as a ‘failed experiment’ that ‘divides rather than unites’, and claimed that because of this British society is ‘sleepwalking into segregation’. Black communities themselves are being blamed for the systematic disadvantage they suffer, be it in employment, housing or in education. Much of this rhetoric has been directed against the Muslim community, who have seen Islamophobia soar in recent years.
In reality all the evidence points to the success of our multicultural society. Far from the media portrayals, the Trades Union Congress has shown that immigration has not depressed jobs or wages. Treasury figures show that immigration is responsible for around 10 per cent of economic growth. Research by academics has demonstrated that society is becoming more integrated, not less, with racist housing policies and economic disadvantage due to racism often the real barrier to social mobility.
This diversity is not only positive, it is necessary. Without the contributions of migrants many hospitals, schools and universities would be unable to function.
The hard-fought-for framework of multiculturalism is based on mutual respect and the right of people to lead their lives as they wish, as long as it does no harm to others. Alongside strong action against discrimination, this is the only way to achieve a cohesive, integrated society.
It is attempts to undermine this multicultural framework which create the danger of division, and scapegoating other cultures and ethnic minorities only emboldens racists and fascists such as the British National Party, who have seen support increase year on year since 2001.
The effects are felt on campuses too. Last year suggestions by the government that university staff should spy on Muslim and ‘Asian-looking’ students were condemned by the NUS, trade unions and others. An agenda of ‘cohesion’ and forced assimilation has been aggressively pursued by some Vice Chancellors and college principals, who have attempted to close Islamic Societies or ban the wearing of Islamic veils.
Our multicultural society should be celebrated. Students can help by challenging racism and other barriers that prevent people from playing a full role in the student movement and society.