22 January, 2009


Tales from the Multiculture: Bexleyheath

I was wandering round beautiful downtown Bexleyheath the other afternoon. It was about 15:30 and the local schools had not long chucked out. Groups of schoolchildren were milling around the pedestrianized area of the Broadway, chatting, looking in the shop windows, waiting for buses home.

Two things were noticeable to the jaundiced eye of this ageing racist thug.

The first was the demographic difference between the generations. Bexleyheath, towards the South-Eastern edge of the London conurbation, is still a decidely White place, although the African presence is growing apace. Admittedly the people out and about in the shopping centre on a weekday afternoon are visibly skewed towards the elderly, but the visible adult population, shoppers and shopworkers, is over 90% White.

With the schoolkids, the demographic shift is stark. At a very rough guess I'd say they were 50% Black, 40% White and 10% other. This of course confirms the repeated reports of the demographic make-up of London's schools. What is interesting is that this observation was made at the outer edge of London, not in one of the inner boroughs.

What will Bexleyheath Broadway look like in ten years' time, I wonder.

The second interesting observation was the extent to which the kids stuck together in single-race groups. This was quite striking: groups of six-to-eight Black kids marching about, groups of three-to-four White girls discussing the displays in shop windows. The smaller numbers of Indian and Chinese children also stuck together in their respective tribes. That is not to say that there was no interaction at all between ethnicities, but it was very much at the margins and largely one-to-one. I got the impression that the kids were friendly enough with children of other races, but they would retreat into their own tribal groups for solidarity and support.

Merely a casual observation, but it seems to give the lie to the assertions of diversity-mongers like Trevor Phillips that today's kids are increasingly "colour-blind". They are certainly familiar with a diversity of racial groups, but anything but socially colour-blind. We are often told that an increasingly "diverse" population (ie lots more Black and Brown people, please) will lead to greater cohesion through familiarity. I suspect, and my own casual observations over the years tend to reinforce this view, that as the non-indigenous component of the population relentlessly increases in number, the various ethnic groups reach critical mass and begin to look inwards, leading to a balkanized multiculture of many tribes in an uneasy and unstable peace with each other and not the vibrant enriching, happily diverse utopia we have been led to expect.

What will Bexleyheath Broadway look like in ten years' time, I wonder.

Clearly it will be more 'vibrant' and exciting than ever!

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