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CROWD


"London is really just a string of villages, actually." Yes, here is an abstraction we are happy to deal with: 'community'.

Deyan Sujic (100 Mile City) denies the idea of community as an inherently urban feature in present-day cities; or even the past. He finds fault with Jane Jacobs but is harder still on predecessors such as the authors of Family and Kinship in East London:

"Once you look past the astonishingly condescending view that the academics had of their subjects, you find a fundamental misapprehension about the nature of city life…the model for the 'natural' order of urban organization…is the farming hamlet and the fishing village, where everybody knows everybody else…",
There are, of course, communities in cities. Sujic is almost too eager to deny this. And they may, in the past, have been more socially cohesive (the "tight-knit community") there are certainly fewer communities in which the family is the main sub-group; they are rather ethnic/national (loose but quite distinct West African groupings,for example, within the larger West Indian black populations of London) to the community of this or that age group; the young together, the middle aged together etc, (Such age stratifications are, needless to say particularly disliked by the tight-knot community people) There are even sexual communities; parts of town are gay, at least recreationally.

The new enthusiasts of tight-knit community, (secretly, perhaps, pining for ethnic singleness of the 'London' in an Ealing comedy) know that an altogether different model is desirable, compulsory today; community was to be a blending together of the diverse; of diverse ages, nationalities, religious persuasions, above all races. This is the message in the London soap opera Eastenders. But the truth isn't so cosy. Black and White communities in London do not mix much. Black and Asian interaction is uncommon. All that Eastenders TV stuff ("What's yours ,Tariq? Pint please, Winston, old son. Having one Tel?") is well-intentioned, but we are looking at a fundamentally middle-class and liberal yearning for Jacobs-like community. (And not only an idealistic one either; perhaps also a scared one.) Actual racial interaction takes different forms; indeed it often flies hilariously in the face of the solemnity and the certitudes of political correctness; it is an altogether more trenchant business. I am in PC World in the City buying a bit of software. At a desk sits a Sikh with two white fellow employers. They were all looking at a phone headset, clearly a new part of staff equipment. "Well", says one of the white guys "You won't be using this Vijay; it'd never go over your fackin' turban." They all laugh. I recall an elderly Rasta taxi driver leaning back in his car as we drove through Brixton; somehow the issue of racism came up; perhaps it was a poster on a wall. "Raacism? He said in a slow, creaky, Jamaican voice…Raacism?."…long, long pause……"' white man's business."

   
 

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