No apartheid in Norbury

In this week’s New Stateman, Darcus Howe responds to the persistent talk of “segregation” by presenting the situation in his home suburb of Norbury, south London, widely perceived (at least locally) as some sort of ethnic ghetto:

This community, I warned the attentive audience, was not sleepwalking. The evidence indicates the opposite: a dynamic section of the population which has painstakingly reconstituted a high street on its last legs into a vibrant, multicultural place. To describe us as segregated borders on abuse. All are free to come and go. There is always a coming and a going as communities change to accommodate the new.

I have travelled through the Deep South in America and I know what segregation is. Its defining characteristic is that it is always organised and perpetuated by a racist state power. So, too, in South Africa.

I joined the passengers who cram the trains to Victoria, cheek by jowl. Whites are huddled next to blacks. Asians are crushed up against Africans. And when they arrive at work Muslims and Christians are set in motion beside each other; they join trade unions together and discuss the latest fashions together.

My community and those like it have built these areas from the bottom up. We will not allow them to be rent asunder by some minister for social cohesion and her cohorts from the bemused bureaucracy.

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