Who are these `ethnic minorities'?

Even as bridges are built, there is always an assumption of superiority by one side or the other

ON MY way to Paris, not for a dirty weekend alas, but a serious purpose. Travelling in a fine first class coach (these things still impress me), with not too many bores in suits with their attention seeking phones, I focus on writing a paper for a seminar later that day which is meant to discuss whether France or Britain has been better at managing the huge demographic transformations that have made both countries irreversibly multi-ethnic. The seminar was organised by the Franco-British Council, which exists to create better understanding between the two nations.

But even as bridges are built, there is always score-counting and an assumption of superiority by one or the other side. This topic is especially vulnerable to this tendency. For a century, there has been a schism in the way race relations are understood, discussed and planned for by the two countries. And it was ever thus.

When I was an undergraduate at Makerere in Africa, we spent hours discussing whether it was better to be colonised by the British who made no attempt to pretend that you could become one of them, so you were free to be yourself, or the French who, not content with taking your country, had to colonise your mind and heart, but who did then accept you as an equal. Brilliant African writers such as Leopold Senghor, member of the Academie Francaise and the first president of Senegal and the erstwhile president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere debated these differences. Negritude, the movement promoting African values, was all the rage.

To this day, I am not sure which was the better model.

But what I do know is that I am grateful I live here, on this flawed and fickle island, rather than in France, and that the reasons are firmly rooted in history. This trip, however, has made me question my views. For 30 years, multiculturalism, as expounded by that exceptional Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, has underpinned policy and politics this society. His vision was that integration should not be a "flattening process of assimilation", which deprived ethnic communities of their cultures, but a framework that promoted equality and mutual respect between groups.

The French have, for decades, considered us mad for taking this route. Profound assimilationists, they believed everyone in France was French and those who weren't had to damn well live as if they were. Consequently, you find black and Middle Eastern intellectuals who are indeed more proudly French than the French. Astonishingly, it was not until this year that any data on racially or culturally distinct residents or citizens in France was available, because such research militated against the self-definition of the country.

But key events have rocked both countries out of complacency. The Brixton riots and the Satanic Verses fiasco revealed how expensive multiculturalism could be. It was suddenly not only about lovely curries but values, battles and fury about essential matters. Even Roy Jenkins retreated from his own vision. France's confrontation with itself came over whether Algerian girls could wear headscarves in school. The band aid of assimilation, once unstuck, revealed bloody wounds of difference worn with defiance by an increasingly alienated young Arab population.

These experiences must explain the refreshing openness you now find among the elite on both sides of the channel. There is real engagement about where to go next, not only because past solutions have not always worked, but because the present and future are unimaginably more complex.

Just take these current examples. Twenty young Algerians in Toulon are on hunger strike to protest about their exclusion from the decent life and De Chevalier, an extreme right-wing mayor, is the only public figure who visits them daily. In both countries, ordinary Muslims despise foreign- sponsored Imams because they use European Muslims for wider geopolitical ideological battles and keep them in mental ghettos.

Neither simplistic multiculturalism or assimilationism can address these problems. We must dump these ideologies and their assumptions. Europe has no majority community and much cultural variation, so why talk euphemistically of "ethnic minorities"?

Asians, Caribbeans, Algerians are an intrinsic part of the West. They would not freely pack up and go to the world that is not the west, so why do they rant on about Western values? Shed presumptions and lies and you get a whole new discourse, where diversity is not something you "tolerate" as if it is a bad but unavoidable smell, but something we all salute.

Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower