The Color of New Europe; One Common Reality through Europe Is That Minorities Remain Apart

By Cose, Ellis | Newsweek International, November 21, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Color of New Europe; One Common Reality through Europe Is That Minorities Remain Apart


Cose, Ellis, Newsweek International


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CORRECTION: Editor's Note: The initial version of this report incorrectly stated that England would have 21 M.P.s of minority heritage if Parliament were truly representative. The correct number is 51.

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Byline: Ellis Cose

EDITOR'S NOTE APPENDED

Every unhappy family, Tolstoy famously observed, is unhappy in its own way. One could make a similar observation about nations--that when it comes to the state of ethnic relations, each has its own unhappy story. If that is not exactly a source of comfort, it does provide a measure of reassurance that the violence sweeping through France in the last two weeks is not necessarily a harbinger of what awaits the rest of Europe. Though other European nations are struggling to absorb fast-growing populations of ethnic minorities, other nations are not France--a point forcefully made by David Lammy, a rising young star in the British Parliament who represents the most diverse neighborhood in London.

Lammy, also England's minister of Culture, was born in 1972 to immigrant parents from Guyana. He was barely a teenager, in 1985, when riots broke out in Tottenham, the North London community he serves and where he then lived. In those days, recalls Lammy, to be a young black man in Tottenham meant to be "constantly and randomly stopped and searched" by police. That is no longer the case, certainly not to the extent it seemed to be in many of the French communities that recently erupted in violence directed, in part, against the police.

England, in Lammy's view, also learned another lesson that France did not, which was to embrace--at least to some extent--multiculturalism. "It is possible," as he put it, "to be British and be black." France promoted a more assimilationist model. There was the expectation that French identity would trump all other cultural reference points--that one, in short, would become French and, essentially, nothing else--which conceivably might have worked, if everyone was, in fact, treated as if they were French and nothing else. As unemployment statistics make clear, the reality is rather different.

Indeed, if there is one common reality through Europe, it is that ethnic minorities remain somewhat apart. "The fact that inner cities still exist means we have a lot to do," says Lammy. It means, at the very minimum, that life for ethnic minorities is different than for most white Europeans. And because those young minorities are not like those of a generation or two ago, the consequences are more substantial. …

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