2014/03/18 Leave a comment
A more encouraging take at the daily interaction level on multiculturalism in the UK:
Think of all those tiny interactions between different ethnic groups on an average British city street: the newsagent, the corner shop, the delivery driver, the postman, friends laughing, children playing, a pair of lovers. This is what generates passive tolerance. You don’t have to be part of the interaction yourself; just witnessing it is enough to have a significant impact – comparable to the effect passive smoking has on your health, hence the term passive tolerance.
This is the finding of seven studies carried out over 10 years in the United States, Europe and South Africa, led by a team of social psychologists at the University of Oxford and published in the journal of the United States National Academy of Sciences. They were careful to rule out the most obvious explanation for their finding, social psychologists Miles Hewstone and Katharina Schmid explain – namely, that the higher levels of tolerance in more diverse neighbourhoods are a result of more tolerant people choosing to live there. Two of the studies were conducted over several years and tracked the same individuals, showing how attitudes changed. Even prejudiced people showed a greater degree of tolerance over time if they lived in a mixed neighbourhood.
The study’s positive message is reinforced by the finding of a separate study led by the same Oxford team – the biggest to date in England on diversity and trust. White British people were asked whether they felt ethnic minorities threatened their way of life, increased crime levels, or took their jobs; ethnic minority participants were asked the same questions. Both groups were then asked about how they interact with other groups in everyday situations, such as corner shops, and then about how much they trusted people from their own and other ethnic groups in their neighbourhood. What the study found was that distrust does rise in diverse communities, but day to day, direct contact cancels it out.
It may be a bit over optimistic, given the rise of UKIP and anti-immigration sentiment, but worth reading and reflecting upon; Putman’s thesis of the negative impact of diversity on trust may be overstated or incorrect.