31 October 1986 - 02 November 1986

Coping wih Ethnic Pluralism in Advanced Western Societies

Chair: The Rt Hon the Lord Grimond TD PC

The subject of the Foundation's conference on the weekend 31 October-2 November was a difficult one – “Coping with ethnic pluralism in advanced western societies”. Lord Grimond took the chair. In addition to the US and British participants there were three from France, two from Canada, one from Germany and one from Spain (currently resident in the US). The ethnic minorities represented were black or brown and this caused the conference to concentrate heavily on the problems of black minorities rather than on ethnic pluralism in general. It soon became evident that this was a subject on which everyone had learned long ago to use coded language and to be wary of stirring passions. On the British side two Conservative MP's and one Labour MP cancelled their acceptances at the last moment. This disturbed the balance of the conference, and it was only partly restored by the participation in the Sunday morning plenaries of a distinguished Conservative MP recruited at the last moment. On the other hand the considerable differences between US and British experience (the US seeming to be some two decades ahead of Europe in experience of these matters) ensured that the complexity of the problem was not lost and checked any tendency to political over-simplification. The French also brought a different experience and attitude (eloquently and persuasively expressed) and managed to hold on to an historical perspective and a broad focus which the Anglo-Saxons and the British and Americans of Afro-Caribbean origin sometimes seemed to be losing as they wrestled with the acute issues of their own daily experience.

Some participants were inclined to the view that racial pluralism had come to stay everywhere, that it was an unqualified enrichment, and that discussion should concentrate on remedies for minority grievances. Others reminded the conference that the political structure of the world was based on nation states and that the waves of immigration which gave rise to the minority problems which were attracting most attention at the conference were a very recent phenomenon (the black population of the United States always excepted). Multi-racialism in itself was neither good nor bad. The problem was to find ways of absorbing new minorities, developing the benefits and eliminating the disruptive aspects of their presence. Old minorities, in respect of which the colour question did not arise, needed to be regarded in the same way. The discussion at times seemed to imply that justice for minorities had to be sought in justice for all (full employment, much improved educational systems, better health care and housing, etc.) But those who were engaged daily in dealing with minority problems and the practicalities of ethnic pluralism consistently brought discussion back from this utopian level to the need for urgent action now to meet the needs of specific minority groups in specific areas if social and political upheavals were to be avoided.

On the economic side it was recognised that ethnic minority problems had become part of a wider problem of decaying inner cities. There was usually little difficulty in absorbing skilled immigrants, but much recent immigration had consisted of unskilled people with little schooling. They tended to be concentrated in urban areas where economic decline was most acute. There was an urgent need to educate and train the newcomers and, even more, their children; but job opportunities were equally important. The participants from Britain were strongly in favour of more government intervention and "affirmative" or "positive" action to favour minority groups and individuals. Several American voices warned against excessive expectations from government or from "affirmative" action. The latter tended to degenerate into a system of quotas at the lowest employment levels, which led to the perpetuation of a minority under-class. Access to power and influence was the important consideration. Once members of minorities had penetrated the higher levels of local government, national politics, trade, industry, finance and the national institutions in general, a fruitful interaction between them and the groups to which they belonged could take place, to the advantage of both the individual and the group. Much needed to be done to raise public awareness of the need to give minorities a fair share of access to jobs, public positions, etc. and to overcome the stereotyping in people's minds which equated black with deficiency.

The discussion about education tended at times to become a discussion about ways to improve education in general, especially in the UK. There were some envious glances towards the highly centralised systems of France and Spain, because of their theoretical capacity to impose an equitable deal for minorities country-wide. Interestingly, it was agreed by all that minority children were helped more by a demanding than by a permissive system and that separate curricula for minorities were bad for the minority children themselves. On the other hand curricula should be broadened to be less narrowly national and to reflect the "one world" in which everyone now had to live and to prepare all children for the multicultural experiences which would shape their grown-up lives. Parents should be given greater opportunities of understanding of what the schools were trying to do. There were warnings against the danger of having "church" schools for religious groups which in practice would become racially exclusive schools. There were pleas for education for all children to remain rooted in the world's libraries and not to become dominated by gimmicky responses to ephemeral, contemporary pressures.

Various participants commented that, in years of conference going, they had never known a discussion of ethnic pluralism to be conducted so calmly and dispassionately. There were a few flashes of passion in the concluding plenary session, provoked apparently by mention of possible limits to majority tolerance. Those who had been keenest to press for minority interests were a bit restive when talk turned to the political difficulties of meeting them across the board. As both sides of the argument had been well aired the heat did not turn to flame, although several black Cassandras warned of flame to come if quick progress was not made.

The conference left the same sort of feeling as the conference on South Africa left a year earlier - relief that it had been possible to discuss so hot a subject coolly, dismay at the depth and width of the gulfs to be crossed and surprise at the relative ease with which opposite views could be brought closer together as long as those concerned were looking inwards round the Ditchley conference table and not outwards to the public arena.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: The Rt Hon the Lord Grimond TD PC
Life Peer (Liberal); Chancellor of University of Kent at Canterbury; a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation.


Mr Paul Boateng

Solicitor and Partner, B M Birnberg and Co; Vice-Moderator, Programme to Combat Racism, World Council of Churches; Member of the Board, English National Opera, Round House Trust.
Professor Juliet Cheetham
Professor and Director, Social Work Research Centre, Stirling University
Mr Malcolm Cross
Principal Research Fellow, Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick
Professor Nicholas Deakin
Head, Social Administration Department, University of Birmingham
Mr Alf Dubs MP
(Labour), Battersea; Opposition Front Bench Spokesman on Home Affairs
Mrs Ann Dummett
Director, Runnymede Trust
Professor Michael Dummett
Wykeham Professor of Logic in the University of Oxford, and Fellow of New College, Oxford
The Rt Hon Barney Hayhoe MP
(Conservative), Brentford and Isleworth
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Wyn Jones
Head, No 2 Area Headquarters, Metropolitan Police, London.
Councillor Dick Knowles
Leader of Birmingham City Council
Mr David Lipsey
Editor, New Society;
Ms Usha Prashar
Director, National Council for Voluntary Organisations; Member, Executive Committee, Child Poverty Action Group.
Mr Pranlal Sheth
Director and Company Secretary, Abbey Life Assurance Co Ltd; Director, Ambassador Life Assurance Co Ltd, Abbey Life Assurance (Ireland) Ltd; Legal Director, Hartford Europe Group of Companies; Group Secretary, ITT companies in UK; Secretary, Abbey Life Group pic; Trustee, Project Fullemploy.
Mr Linbert Spencer
Chief Executive, Project Fullemploy (Charitable Trust); Associate Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Community and Race Relations, Brunel University; Member: Home Secretary’s Advisory Council for Race Relations, Department of Employment’s Race Relations Advisory Group, Administrative Council for the Royal Jubilee and Prince’s Trust, National Advisory Council for the Youth Service.
Sir Sigmund Sternberg KCSG JP, Chairman of several companies; Lloyds Underwriter; Chairman, Executive Committee of the International Council of Christians and Jews; Member, Council of Keston College.
Mr Rodney Usher
Advisory Head Teacher, Inner London Education Authority (ILEA)
Mr A P Wilson
Community Programmes and Equal Opportunities Department, Home Office
Dr Kenneth Young
Senior Research Fellow, Policy Studies Institute, London

Professor Jamshed Mavalwala
, Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto; Member, National Executive, Canadian Council of Christians and Jews; President, World Conference on Religion and Peace/Canada (UN non-governmental organisation); Member, Police Community Relations for Greater Toronto, Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations, Toronto.
Dr Bridglal Pachai
Program Director and Executive Director, Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia

Monsieur Alain Billon

Deputy for Paris (Partie Socialiste), National Assembly; Member, Regional Council for Ile de France.
Monsieur Stéphane Hessel
Ambassadeur de France
Madame Dominique Schnapper
Directeur des Etudes, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

Herr Hans-Heinrich Noebel

Retired as Ambassador at Bogota (1979-82)

Mr Benedict Kingsbury

Snell Junior Research Fellow in Law, Balliol College, Oxford.

Professor Juan J Linz

Pelatiah Peril Professor of Political and Social Science, Yale University; Member of the Board, Committee on Political Sociology, International Sociological Association and the International Political Science Association

Mr Henry I DeGeneste

Superintendent of Police, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey; Consultant to Scotland Yard/London Metropolitan Police on policing strategies in multi-ethnic communities; Adjunct Professor, John Jay College Graduate School.
Miss Deborah G Dean
Executive Assistant to the Secretary, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington DC
Professor Tom J Farer
Professor of Law, The University of New Mexico
Mrs Rita Hauser
Partner, Stroock & Stroock & Levan (Attorneys at Law), New York; Public Member, US Delegation to the Follow-up Meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Vienna (from November 1986); Member, Advisory Panel on International Law, US Department of State; Chairman, Advisory Group, International Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in the Soviet Union; a Director, the American Ditchley Foundation.
Ms Anne Heald
Program Officer (formerly Associate Program Officer), The German Marshall Fund of the United States, Washington, DC
Mr Kevin F McCarthy
Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, California
Mrs Harriet R Michel
President and Chief Executive Officer, New York Urban League
Dr Donna E Shalala
President and Professor of Political Science, Hunter College, City University of New York; a Governor, American Stock Exchange; Trustee, Teachers Insurance Annuity Association; Director, Children’s Defense Fund, Institute for International Economics; Trustee, Committee for Economic Development; a Director, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Clarence Thomas
Chairman, US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, DC
Mr Wendell Willkie
General Counsel, Department of Education, Washington, DC
Dr Anne Wortham
Visiting Scholar, Hoover Institution, Stanford University