Racism is a human issue
Richard Shaw's piece on a MORI poll in The Guardian prompted this response from Kiran Sharma who offers another viewpoint.
Having read the same Guardian article, I too was moved by it - albeit in a slightly different way.
As an ethnic minority person who happens to be a researcher and a researcher who happens to be an ethnic minority person...
I worried about the impact of the somewhat sensationalist headline on the creation of racial harmony among Britains ethnically diverse groups.
I wanted to know and understand more about the 4 out of 10. How was the question asked? In what context? Were they given an opportunity to give reasons/further articulate their belief, want, need?
Rightly or wrongly, I felt hesitant in presuming that these 4 were racist - as many of the reports implied. Instead, I found myself thinking about the elderly Asian and Black people I know who prefer to live in areas where some people from the same ethnic groups reside. They want to be among those who, they assume, hold similar value systems - rather than beliefs that are racist.
I was also reminded of a recent conversation that I had had with a young Asian woman about to embark on life as a university student. When searching for suitable accomodation she avoided digs in areas with "too many Asians" primarily because she did not want to be judged negatively for values and a way of life that, she thought, might not fit into the more traditional Asian value system.
If I interviewed enough of these people, I could imply similar shocking conclusions: X% of elderly Asians and Blacks do not want a White neighbour; X% of young Asians do not want to live among other Asians. Both fall short of expressing the deeper reality of these people.
It was slightly more heartening to see another version of the Mori poll and Bobby Duffys resultant comments in Prospect magazine (Februarys edition): "Nearly 4 out of 10 respondents say they would rather live in an area where people are from the same ethnic background as themselves"; adding: "Such attitudes are often shorthand for wanting to live among people who share our values - which 85% of people want, according to the same survey."
He further suggests, "For some people, the idea of ethnic diversity will simply conjure up negative images of rough inner cities".
One very effective way of addressing that is to dispel these and other stereotypical myths about ethnic minorities by all available means. The media - including the advertising industry - is itself a powerful tool for beginning, sustaining and achieving this.
Duffy goes on to state that "Not only do 53% of respondents not agree that they want to live in an area where people are from the same ethnic backgrounds as themselves, 65% (nearly 7 out of 10) agree that having a mix of people in an area makes it a more enjoyable place to live." Unfortunately, this aspect was not reported by the mainstream or ethnic media.
I am not saying blind racism does not exist. Of course it does - both at an individual and institutional level. Its insidious effects are far-reaching - they impact on us socially, politically and commercially.
Indeed, the 39% of the Whites in the Mori Poll who, apparently do not want an Asian or Black neighbour, may well be motivated by such racist beliefs - I dont know.
I do know that, as a British Asian woman who has grown up living in Africa, India and Britain, and as a world citizen, I have learnt that it is wise not to presume the presence nor the absence of racism in any particular culture or racial/ethnic group.
Racism is not simply a Black or White issue. Its a human one. As is racial harmony/ethnic diversity.
Opinion Polls help assess what people are thinking/feeling about a given issue. Issues like ethnic diversity and race relations, however, are as complex as they are sensitive. Hence, they require a depth of understanding that polls, in isolation, do not provide.
Finally, how can we, as researchers, ensure that ethnic minorities are included in the research process? Maybe, when considering the sample structure and evaluating the current/potential consumer profile of a category, brand, product or service - we should treat ethnicity as simply another variable - just as we do with age, class, region, usage/non-usage etc.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, May 2004
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2004