PP reader Halima points to a very interesting article. Last year the book ‘The New East End: Kinship, Race and Conflict’ was published to much fanfare.
It reflected some of the preoccupations of Family and Kinship, attempting to trace the impact of government policy and its unintended consequences on communities.
It controversially argued that administration of local housing policy had benefited Bangladeshis, leaving the white working class resentful and had contributed to the rise of racism in Tower Hamlets through the 80s and 90s. Trevor Phillips, then chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and now head of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, declared the book, “one of the most important I’ve read for a long time”.
Except that this wasn’t the whole picture.
Earlier this month, a bitter meeting at the British Sociological Association aired some of the fury. The criticism of sociologists is vociferous. They argue it is “incompetent”, lacking any academic rigour and more about opinionated polemic than evidence. But this is more than an academic spat. People at the heart of the housing battles of Tower Hamlets in the 80s – residents, campaigners and housing officers – are equally perturbed. They argue it omits crucial elements of the wider picture; that it goes beyond explaining white racism to justifying it.
“My report in 1994 showed how the council didn’t apply need and repeatedly discriminated against Bangladeshis in favour of whites. The reality is the opposite of what they claimed,” said Adams, adding that repeated investigations in the 80s and early 90s uncovered evidence of systematic discrimination in housing policy against Bangladeshis.
“What they omit is that there was some joint action … they also omit the fact that there was a very high level of racial violence on the streets. Even if all the housing problems had been solved, the racism would still need to have been tackled – there’s a long history of it in the East End with anti-semitism and anti-Irish sentiment.”
This from a report in Society Guardian last week. Isn’t that interesting? The book, which said Bangladeshis in the East End got it easy misrepresented the whole truth, ignoring the racism and prejudice they faced in getting housing. More interesting points:
Bangladeshis are depicted as largely passive recipients of a middle-class “do-good” type of welfare generosity, but researchers argue this erases the struggle of a generation of small Bangladeshi groups who campaigned for racial justice.
It dangerously explains racism away by blaming welfare policy, and thus unintentionally both exonerates racism and undermines the importance of need in allocating welfare.
Update 2: PP commenter Halima has a letter in the Guardian on this.
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