So, Birmingham will be minority white within about ten years. And the beauty is that it won’t have a majority of any one community. We will be one of the most diverse cities in the world. Of course, the truth is that the white population wasn’t one community. There were people of Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Polish and other origins and by religion we were Catholic, Anglican, Non-Conformist, Jewish, agnostic and lapsed. In reality, Birmingham has been one of the most diverse cities in the world for many years, but the reality of white people becoming a minority helps us to appreciate what kind of city we really are.
I do not think we have made enough of this. The people who are paid millions to market our city give too little emphasis to our diversity. I think that in these globalising times, it gives us a real advantage. We can relate to all places in the world and all people in the world because there is someone in our city who originates from there or nearby. I remember being in a school in Ladywood to witness a computer link between a school in Soweto and one in Ladywood. The Soweto children asked how many racial groups in the class. They could not understand why the answer took so long and when it eventually came, it was 22 and they couldn’t believe it!
Similarly, when my old department was helping Rwanda reconstruct after the terrible genocide of 1994, a group of teachers visited schools in Birmingham. They were profoundly impressed by how many ethnicities were represented and how easily everyone got along with each other.
In these days of increasing bitter division in the world on lines of ethnicity and religion, Birmingham stands out as a jewel where people mix and get on and increasingly understand and respect each other’s history and religion. It gives our city an exciting edge with the range of food and cultural traditions that flow side by side in the city. We should be justly proud of this but we should not take it for granted.
Our city will continue to thrive and prosper if we treasure all its people and ensure that all get the chance to work and see their children educated. This is the promise that drew all of our foreparents to Birmingham and the core experience that unites us. But there are some dangers on the horizon. Unemployment rates in the inner city remain very high and risk leaving some communities behind. In addition, some of the housing stock is very poor indeed and this leaves a risk of run down, crime infested areas where drug gangs prosper, shaping a city that increasingly divides into haves and have nots. There is a also a danger that the Muslim community feels increasingly alienated and under pressure. We must not allow the Muslim community to feel isolated from the mainstream. There are also new communities from Somalia and Francophone Africa. Many are highly educated and talented and in search of a better life. But too often asylum seekers are vilified and some are left desperate and destitute and in need of help and support.
Birmingham is an extraordinary city and the hope its history has brought to many peoples needs to be treasured and honoured. We must not allow present bitter divisions in the world to be reflected in our city or this would drag us all down.