My definition of “Perfect” Shared Society:
“It is a common ground when people can express their own ideas and opinions without fear and with respect for each other whilst avoiding the extremes. Where economical, social, educational and cultural growth is a common goal to all in a society that has learnt from previous events and is currently focusing on building a better future for next generations.”
My perspective might be slightly different because I will try to focus on this topic from a BME (Black, Minority Ethnic) community point of view.
The cultural landscape of Northern Ireland is changing with over 200,000 BME community members living in Northern Ireland. We can start by saying that this place is transforming from being a single identity community to a multicultural society. As a part of this change, I can only say that incomers supported on a small scale the peace process in Northern Ireland by bringing diversity. In most cases, people moving to Northern Ireland are well educated, willing to work hard, pay taxes and support the local community. They also bring skills that quite often members of the local communities do not have.
I believe that everyone has a responsibility in building society no matter if you are coming from ‘green or orange’ or the BME community. In the end, we all have the same goals and want to live in a peaceful, healthy and safe place.
In 2011, I was involved in organising the first global conference for Young Polish Diaspora Leaders that took place in Toronto, Canada with 250 delegates from over 44 countries. Thanks to this experience I had a chance to meet not only members of the Polish and other communities living in Canada but also interface with Canadian politicians including Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism.
What surprised me was that all incomers who decided to migrate to Canada were seeing themselves as Canadian of Polish, Italian, etc origin regardless of years living there. M Kenney confirmed that this approach has a positive impact on the Canadian economy – New Canadians are keen to support their new country locally and internationally from day one and all are working towards building a cohesive but united society that Canada is proud of.
Canada is the only country in the world which is supporting acculturation* and has it mentioned in its constitution. All Canadian politicians including the Canadian PM in public speeches encourage newcomers to keep and cultivate the culture and language of the country they come from.
*Acculturation explains the process of cultural change and psychological change that results following meeting between cultures. The effects of acculturation can be seen at multiple levels in both interacting cultures. At the group level, acculturation often results in changes to culture, customs, and social institutions. Noticeable group level effects of acculturation often include changes in food, clothing, and language. At the individual level, differences in the way individuals acculturate have been shown to be associated not just with changes in daily behaviour, but with numerous measures of psychological and physical well-being.
A shared society should also be based on democratic choices in which all communities should be able to participate equally. At present there are over 23,000 EU Citizens registered to vote in Northern Ireland but the level of BME leaders involved in democratic processes is still less than minimal.
BME constituents might become a good alternative after next year’s council reform when politicians will have to fight for votes in new constituencies.
A majority of incomers who migrate to Northern Ireland are not part of the post- conflict society and that might be a very strong point in building a shared society. The BME community does have a fair knowledge and understanding of the previous situation in Northern Ireland. However it is a community without negative memories in recent years, beyond the green – orange debate and willing to support the local economy. Quite often living in areas, which for many years were predominantly occupied by members of mentioned communities.
Racism and Hate Crime
The BME community faces its own issues and the most important one is racism.
“Since April there have been 431 racial offences recorded by the police across Northern Ireland. (+64% since last year) #spotlightni”
The level of myths and stereotypes about BME community amongst the local community is very high. The most common are:
- “You are coming here to steal our jobs”
- “You are coming here to steal our houses”
- “You are coming here to drain our social system”
You can’t focus on building or fostering the idea of a shared society when you afraid of leaving your house because of your accent or the color of your skin.
In the last number of months, several houses have being attacked and a number of graffiti being reported. And there is a great dose of absurdity in this, because every attack on a Polish, African, Asian family or every graffiti painted on a door step are giving victims 100 plus points and priority on a waiting list for social housing.
The BME community needs to recognise the BME ambassadors from well known and respected members of the indigenous society who could help to build a positive image of BME community in addition to their own community ‘leaders’.
I don’t know if you noticed but in my presentation I haven’t used the word migrant at all. Why? Because I wanted to escape from using words which have very negative connotations. Many people judge migrants based on prejudice, quite often taken from local media and current events.
NI needs to finally establish the Racial Equality Strategy, which is supposed to foster the transition of BME community to a level when all skills and attitude could be used to build cohesive community.
Northern Ireland is moving forward and I am able to see that change in the last 10 years.
Last Sunday I was driving around the north coast showing my father and nephew who is 10 years old, the natural beauty of Northern Ireland. At the end of our trip, my car became stuck in the sand on Downhill Beach. The situation was helpless and without the help of other people I would not be able to move. After several minutes, approx. 10 people stopped to help us and together we were able to push out my car. My nephew was in deep shock seeing so many people helping and working together out of the kindness of their hearts. A “perfect” shared society.
Maciek Bator, Co-Founder/Programme Manager CRAIC NI