Sunday, September 24, 2006

What does diversity research tell us?

I returned to my childhood suburb of Melbourne during the week to visit my parents. Twenty years ago it was an ageing, but still largely monocultural middle-class area of Melbourne. Today it is multicultural.

It is genuinely multicultural in the sense that there are not just two or three ethnic groups living in the same area, but such a diverse mix of people that no ethnic groups stand out at all.

I find the experience of such diversity to be profoundly alienating. It gives me a sense of atomised individualism, in which I exist only as an individual for the pettier purposes of shopping or entertainment. I no longer have the sense of being part of a larger tradition, with a deeper place and more serious responsibilities to my own culture.

It is, I have to admit, always a relief when I head back to my own suburb, which is not exclusively Anglo, but predominantly so. I don't feel the same sense of alienation in such conditions.

I know it's not politically correct for me to write such things. However, I don't think I'm alone in experiencing things this way.

Earlier this year, the BBC ran an article titled "Does diversity make us unhappy?". The straightforward answer given in the article was yes.

Both the Home Office and the Commission for Racial Equality had commissioned research which found that diversity was associated with certain negative outcomes:

It is an uncomfortable conclusion from happiness research data perhaps - but multicultural communities tend to be less trusting and less happy.

Research by the Home Office suggests that the more ethnically diverse an area is, the less people are likely to trust each other.

The Commission for Racial Equality has also done work looking at the effect of diversity on well-being.

Interviewed on The Happiness Formula, the chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips accepts that people are happier if they are with people like themselves.

"We've done the work here which shows that people, frankly, when there aren't other pressures, like to live within a comfort zone which is defined by racial sameness.

"People feel happier if they're with people like themselves ..."

To give some credit to Trevor Phillips he does draw as a conclusion from the research that "We need to respect people's ethnicity". This raises the question of how Western governments can respect the ethnicity of their mainstream populations, an important issue that has not been considered as part of public debate.

1 comment:

  1. This IS an odd thing to say. This happens to me too, in the other direction. I am much more comfortable in my Hispanic community than anywhere else, although you wouldn't suspect me of being hispanic if you met me. We live an an island (literally) and we always sigh in happiness as we come back from being "over the bridge". Things are comfortable where I can assume in my daily interactions that people will understand my needs and feelings, which is difficult outside of our culture. I married a "gringo", by the way, but he has happily become one of us.