Structural problems, Birmingham and beyond

Claire Stewart-Hall, a contact on Twitter, invited a number of us to say more on … (in my case) structural racism. Here is my response, contextualised within my current  and recent work on education and wider community concerns.

‪Using Birmingham as a case study, the problem goes back, at least to the 1950s, when all communities were to be treated exactly the same. This meant those who were behind stayed behind. ‬Many of the inequalities were perpetuated further and became more entrenched. The city was also the site of the Birmingham Immigration Control Association, which was behind the first racist immigration legislation (1962) and the later ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by Powell. 

Black children were labelled ‘educationally subnormal’ (Bernard Coard) and disproportionately excluded from school. Pakistani children were assumed (until 1991) to be doing quite well (Swann Report 1985) because they were categorised as Asian (with the better achieving Indian children). They (me as one of them) also experienced a form of ‘bussing’ (ref two Immigrant Reception Centres). 

Positive Action strategies were put in place (mainly for Black children) which made some difference but then they were abandoned as we entered the colourblind period, from around the turn of the century and especially with the Coalition government. 

Not forgetting the largest of the underachievers, the White Working Class, who have been with us forever except latterly it mattered more. There was little particular focus on them nationally and locally. Hardly anyone was speaking up for them so I (an immigrant) got the job (ref my work in the noughties including the report taken to Parliament on 19 May 2009. If the government had not changed the following year who knows what might have happened). What is the current situation of underachievement amongst poor whites I wonder?

Beyond education, the city sleepwalked into segregation with its racist housing policies, where the newly arriving postwar migrants were welcomed for their labour but not as neighbours (Sivanandan). 

As I pointed out (Dear Birmingham 2013) the largest of the minorities, the Pakistanis, are driving taxis and working in other low paid jobs. The City Council is yet to achieve its employment target it set for them 20 years ago. Every year over 1000 Pakistani children leave school without the benchmark qualifications (ref my PhD-based book 2018). 

There are two main cities; the nonreligious (which includes the white leaders and managers) and the religious (Muslim). In the early 1980s, Danielle Joly had advised that the city needed to find a place for Muslims. That is yet to happen. Meanwhile, since 2011, Muslims have been the largest pupil religious group in the schools. DWP pointed out that Birmingham will become the first Muslim-majority city in Europe. That is looking very possible if we look at Muslim children in schools, the largest pupil religious group since 2011.

More generally, the city leadership continues to be ‘hideously white’ (ref Greg Dyke). Schools (with their colonial model) are even more distant from their (minority) communities and the trust level is even lower than in the pre-Trojan Horse period (ref Tim Boyes’ presentation to the DfE 2010). My prediction of a second Trojan Horse has already come true. How long before we have Trojan Horse III?

So, what of our future? The city/‘county’ needs a diverse, religiously literate leadership. The super-diversity is bound to give rise to discord (some to do with past injustices) for which we will need bridge-builders (ref my work with the West Midland’s Mayor). We need ongoing peace but that is not possible without reconciliation and forgiveness amongst communities (ref my work with the Bishop of Birmingham’s Peace and Reconciliation Group). As the city becomes a minority-majority community, it will need to be inclusive of all of its 200 communities, especially the larger groups ie White and Pakistanis.