The uncertainties surrounding the merits of immigration and varying British identities has afflicted the very heart of Britain, namely the city of London. In spite of London gaining a reputation for its cosmopolitan demography, the issues of race and ethnicity have not been superseded. With the formation of the European Union and the attendant flux of immigrants from the Continent, British cosmopolitanism is met with an unprecedented challenge. Despite scholarship and research studies suggesting the contrary, the mainstream media seems bent on perpetrating xenophobic fears among the native population. The media portrays Eastern European workers in a particularly unfair way. For example, despite statistics from government agencies showing that “Britain has accommodated the huge influx with comparatively few real, as distinct from perceived problems–and crime has actually fallen in England and Wales by 9% in the past recorded year”, newspapers carry disproportionately high reports on petty crimes committed by Eastern European workers (Biney, 2008). It is true that the erstwhile communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe have low literacy levels and that they come to Britain in search of low-paying manual work. But the British media has unfairly extrapolated the low socio-economic profile of these ethnic groups to indicate criminal tendencies. Hence, the stereotypical image of Eastern European workers as dependant on government welfare and depleting available jobs for British citizens is simply not true. This is another example of conservative political establishments in Britain exploiting the issue of immigrant labour to gain political points. But in contradiction to their claims, the entry of Eastern European workers will only add more colour and vibrancy to the multi-cultural urban spaces of Britain. While these are only early years of free movement of labour within the European Union, in a decade or so in the future, this group of immigrants would add to the growing body of evidence that “shared British identity cannot depend on a share culture.” (Alia, & Bull, 2005)
Beyond the question of shared identities and shared cultures, there are some genuine concerns as well. For example, as anti-immigrant activists and politicians point out, with greater accommodation of immigrants, the unique characteristics of the region gets diluted. Many cities in the continent such as Paris, Vienna and Florence still possess their unique flavour, one which reflects the traditions and cultural conventions of the place. This can no longer be said of London, where each locale is dominated by a particular ethnic community, and the air tense with suspicion and distrust of people alien to their culture. In modern London, one can see China Towns, Pakistani neighbourhoods, Professional Indians’ suburbia, illegal East Europeans’ havens, etc. These communities try their best to remain secluded from the mainstream, creating problems for city administrators who are keen to assimilate immigrants into the mainstream. While earlier we saw the example of successful integration of immigrant healthcare professionals into the NHS and Britain, the presence of these secluded community areas show that the trend is by no means universally applicable to all immigrants. In the example of Chinatowns and Pakistani neighbourhoods, we see the reluctance of immigrant groups to adopt both British identity and culture. (Holliday & Kullman, 2004)
Finally, in conclusion, it is apt to bring attention to the following words uttered by Robert Winder in his book Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain, “Ever since the first Jute, the first Saxon, the first Roman and the first Dane leaped off their boats and planted their feet on British mud, we have been a mongrel nation. Our roots are neither clean nor straight: they are impossibly tangled. Why, then are we so fond of believing that British-ness consisted of some smooth and harmonious racial archetype until the post-war arrival of several million black and brown faces from the Tropics? Overseas settlers have been coming here for centuries”. (Holliday & Kullman, 2004)
Parvati Raghuram, Migration: changing, connecting and making places (Chapter 4 in Making Social Lives), Published in 2009 by The Open University Press, ISBN 978 0 7492 1641 2.
Alia, V., & Bull, S. (2005). Media and Ethnic Minorities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Thompson, Mark, Bias, the BBC.And Why I Will Not Allow Newsreaders in Veils. (2006, October 29). The Mail on Sunday (London, England), p. 42.
Biney, A. (2008, June)., Britain Skin Colour Still Matters: Racism in Britain Is Now Disguised in Language Such as Diversity, Immigration and Citizenship, and Is Thus Far More Sophisticated, Subtle and Slippery in Identifying. but as Ama Biney Finds out, the Colour of One’s Skin Still Very Much Matters in Britain Today. New African 86+.
Holliday, A., Hyde, M., & Kullman, J. (2004). Intercultural Communication: An Advanced Resource Book. New York: Routledge.