Augustus Casely-Hayford: We all need to change our ways

I would love to see the Tebbit cricket test re-applied today to his white Chingford kin


I still find it difficult not to keep benchmarking my summers against 1976. My great memory of that summer was Ladbroke Grove, in west London, on the evening of the Notting Hill Carnival riot. I stood on a porch and watched pink paraffin Molotov cocktails tumble out of the air and decant burning streams of kerosene down the road toward the police lines. Every time a bottle burst on the road, a cheer would go up. It was in a strange way very beautiful.

I watched for what felt like a long time. I was just about to become a teenager and I was mesmerised with both fear and excitement. But, I felt it made a kind of sense. The riot may have been spontaneous, but the anger was borne out of years of building resentment. The local population were simply tired of being scared and marginalised. The silo walls of multicultural London were smouldering; it would not be contained.

The following week in the final Test match of one of the greatest West Indian tours, Michael Holding single-handedly destroyed England with a devastating display of imperious bowling. I didn't know how it would change, but I knew this bit of the world could never be quite the same.

Thirty years on, so much has changed. The Notting Hill Carnival "Europe's biggest street party", has become almost mainstream. The surrounding area is now the home of bankers, shadow cabinet ministers and fleets of Chelsea Tractors. And the big cricket series of the summer - before the very un-cricket unravelling of the final Test and perhaps cricket itself - gave us the boys' own dream debuts of two Englishmen, Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood, who devastated the Pakistani batting with hypnotically wily bowling.

To have a Sikh and a Muslim as the twin spearheads of an English victory in Britain's most conservative sport is wonderful. I would love to see the Norman Tebbit cricket test re-applied today to his white Chingford kin. I think they, as much as anyone, must have begun to be aware that the underpinning narrative and values of contemporary Britain have subtly, but profoundly, altered.

It is increasingly untenable to see the culture of minorities as the constantly shifting beach-line and the traditional mainstream as Britain's bedrock and hinterland. The idea of a stable mainstream founded upon a fixed core set of ideals and beliefs against which everything else is measured and accommodated, must be seen as an old-fashioned comforting delusion. I hope we now accept that our society is and always has been much more complex.

Embracing, not just accommodating, that complexity has to be part of our future - we almost have no choice. Diversity, at least the kind of cultural diversity policy that grounds all of those action plans we are writing, is never going to solve the problem. That way of engaging with societal complexity has become deeply damaged. We need to find a new infrastructure, an integrated mechanism for thinking about how demographic changes alter the way metropolitan Britons engage with the world around them. We have to begin to accept that generating formalised ways to accommodate "other" people and then not resourcing or embracing the complexity of that responsibility can actually exacerbate the problem.

If we are to convince young people that they can make a meaningful contribution to the soul of contemporary Britain, we might need to give up a little more of what we value. We cannot afford to give birth to another generation of alien-natives; young people who feel closer to cultures on the other side of earth than the one into which they are born. This is a generation that understandably is not going to be satisfied with defining their cultural practise within the margins.

We know that the loss of trust after the 7/7 tube bombings will take decades to play out and the ramifications of this year's airport chaos may change flying forever, but we will pay a price for not building upon the hard-fought years of pigeon-step gains that have made Panesar and Mahmood possible. Watching the cricketing world polarise into predictable camps underwritten by racial suspicion is deeply sad. But it is an analogue of a broader global paranoia. As a nation we have a history of building real possibility from fragile hope.

I hope to see you at the Notting Hill Carnival this bank holiday. I know after 30 years of carnivals it is a weekend which feels like it is owned by everyone, where even old blokes like me can feel comfortable. I will be the one dancing badly with the William Hague baseball hat - do come over to say hello.

The writer is the director of the Institute of International Visual Arts

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