The idea that Asians ‘self-segregate’ has been challenged by researchers investigating housing in Leeds and Bradford.
Since the riots in Oldham, Burnley, Leeds and Bradford, during the summer of 2001, a number of reports and commentators have promoted the notion of Asian ‘self-segregation’. What began as a racial myth – ‘Asians don’t mix’ – became established as the dominant explanation for the violence that had taken place in northern English mill towns. Segregation, largely self-imposed by Asians, was seen as the cause of ignorance among many whites which, in turn, led to a collapse of social cohesion. The solution was therefore thought to be to encourage greater mixing of groups through ‘cross-cultural’ activities.
But new research, conducted by academics at the universities of Leeds, Warwick and the South Bank, reverses this explanation. The research claims that, while many Asians like to live closely together to be within easy reach of other family or community members, there was no unwillingness to mix with other groups. ‘Most Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis would be happy to live in areas where both Asian and white families live’, said the report, ‘although many have reservations about living in “all white” neighbourhoods because of fears about racism.’ Rather than being just a matter of personal choice, the researchers point out that segregated patterns of living also reflect unequal opportunities in social or private housing and fears about racism.
Entitled Asian mobility in Leeds and Bradford, the research was based on census data, information from electoral reigsters, interviews with 435 Asian households, focus groups and detailed discussions with families in the process of moving home. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
One in six of the survey respondents said that, although they opted to live in an area perceived to be safe, they had still experienced harassment in their current neighbourhood. The survey revealed that large council estates on the outskirts of Leeds and Bradford were viewed as places to be avoided by Asians because of racism. However, the research claims that, in the private sector, estate agents no longer put up as many barriers in the way of Asian mobility as they used to, although there was still evidence that Asians and others were being directed by agents to only buying property in certain areas.
The findings will raise doubts as to the effectiveness of the government’s response to the 2001 riots. In December 2001, the Home Office published its own research which concluded that a ‘community cohesion’ strategy was needed to tackle the problem of ‘parallel lives’. The Community Cohesion Unit, led by Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, now operates across government departments. A guidance document for local authorities, published by the Unit in December 2002, emphasises solutions that break down barriers between young people through increased ‘mixing’ of different cultural groups.