Dreda Say Mitchell: It's not only white people fleeing our city centres

Share
Related Topics

It doesn't feature on Location, Location, Location but "race" is back in the news as a factor in where people choose to live. Trevor Phillips, who chairs the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has reiterated his concerns that Britain could become a segregated society. The Bishop of Rochester thinks some Muslim areas are becoming no-go areas for outsiders, while others are comparing some of England's northern towns to Belfast. But is it actually true?

That some people prefer to live with their own "sort" – the same ethnic background, religion, traditions – and not with "themuns", as they say in Northern Ireland, is incontestable. Actual figures are hard to come by (people are less than frank about this, as we know) but any comment about migration will always be followed by some feedback of the "Why do you think I left Britain to live up a mountain in Switzerland?" variety.

In fact, though, there are as many different reasons why people choose to relocate. The original "white flight" was the working class moving out of London to new towns such as Basildon and Crawley in the 1950s and 60s. Some of them may well have been unhappy with the changing colour of the capital, but most were looking to leave the slums behind and move into more spacious homes with plenty of green space and decent schools.

Many middle-class couples, meanwhile, enjoy living in the "vibrant" parts of our cities – until they remember the joys of leafy white suburbia at about the time they start thinking about their children's education. Is that because they don't want their youngsters skipping piano lessons to go rapping? Or is it because they have studied the league tables and worked out where the educational action is? The very wealthy will continue to send their children to public schools, where they mix with the sons and daughters of Russian oligarchs and Indian millionaires; the rich at least are truly multicultural these days.

My experience as a teacher and education adviser in London has shown that it is not only white, professional families who are giving the inner cities the old heave-ho. Parents from a range of ethnic backgrounds are thinking long and hard about their child's education. My sister, who lives on a housing estate, has recently sent her daughter across the city to be educated at a secondary school with a high reputation, rather than any local alternative.

The factors that lead migrants to concentrate in certain areas are many and varied, too. The most important is money. If you want to know where the migrants are in any particular town, find out where the poorest neighbourhoods are and that'll be it, at least to start with. Caribbean migrants didn't settle in Brixton, Notting Hill and parts of the East End in the 1950s because they were "vibrant" but because that was all they could afford. Equally, family, community and support networks are vitally important when you move to a new country. One of the reasons why the plan to disperse asylum-seekers flopped was because of this. Migrants tend to gravitate to areas where other people from the same background have already led the way.

Does any of this matter? On one level, it obviously does. In a minority of places, real segregation is either happening or on the cards and prejudice and tension are driven by the ignorance and fear that generates. It has often been noted that white and Asian youths in some northern towns listen to the same music, wear the same clothes, use the same slang and support the same football teams – but, in other respects, they may as well be living in different countries. Those who are warning about the long-term consequences of this are right to do so, and we urgently need to think of ways of breaking these barriers down.

But it is also true that most people in this country neither live nor want to live in segregated communities, and couldn't even if they did. When I go to visit my family in the East End, I in no way feel I am entering a London that is a no-go area. Nor is there anything new about divisions in our society, even if you take "race" out of the equation. The Hampstead leftist who walked down the road to have a drink with his comrades in working-class Kilburn was trying to cross a social barrier as pronounced as any racial one.

Perhaps the biggest irony of this debate is that it ignores the most fundamental division developing in our society; that between those who own property and those who don't. Whether house prices rise or fall in 2008, that is one problem that won't be going away any time soon.

The writer is a novelist and former teacher. Her book Killer Tune is published by Hodder

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker