Despite a decade of official anti-racism in Oldham, racial tensions have worsenedby Munira Mirza / September 22, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
In summer 2001, the northern towns of Oldham, Bradford and Burnley witnessed rioting by young Asians. To some observers, this brought back memories of the race riots which had flared up across Britain in the 1980s in places like Brixton and Toxteth. Ted Cantle’s report into the northern riots described a worsening relationship between white and Asian populations in these towns, who lived “parallel lives.” It seemed that nothing had changed; racism was a fact of British life.
In fact, between the 1980s and 2001 a great deal had changed. Twenty years before, racism and inequality were relatively low priorities for the main political parties. By contrast, the 2001 riots followed more than a decade of official anti-racism and diversity policies at local and national levels. Tagged by the media as the “race-hate capital” of Britain, Oldham had seen a raft of policies tackling racism. Rather than a repetition of history, the riots marked something new. Was Oldham so tense because of the way anti-racist policies had placed so much stress on ethnic difference?