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Why Multicultural Communities Are What Makes London (and Britain) Great - and Why We Must Protect Them

01/27/2016 05:52 pm 17:52:10

Whilst competing on The Voice, Tom Jones gave me the nickname 'The Singing Politician', which is due in no small part to growing up in one of the most multicultural communities on the planet.

I spent my childhood in Hackney: an amazing smorgasbord of ethnicities that includes Irish travellers, West Indian, African, Indian, Chinese and White British communities (and that's just the tip of the iceberg). Although pitted as a fairly 'edgy' area by some; I can't imagine a more enriching place in which to learn how to become an adult.

Just popping for a casual shopping trip in the area is like going around the world and back again: from the incredible fusion of West Indian and Western food and delicious world spices at Ridley Road Market, to the fascinating Jewish communities at Stamford Hill.

It's a veritable melting pot of trends, music and culture. The area has produced a diverse array of talent who are widely celebrated today; from esteemed writer (Edgar Allen Poe), to top businessmen (Alan Sugar) and even man-of-the-moment Idris Elba. Local institutions like the 115 year old Hackney Empire has helped provide platforms for this multicultural talent over the years, and the Industrial and Jungle electronic music genres even originated from the area.

My family are of Guyanese descent, so naturally I've adopted many cultural traditions from the country. But my family's customs are by no means the only ones that I embraced whilst growing up in the area. For example there's a large Turkish community in the borough, and one of my fondest childhood memories is learning how to speak the language at school.

There are several studies suggesting that multiculturalism makes us smarter and more creative; and I can attest that being part of such a varied community provided me with some amazing opportunities whilst growing up - such as being elected in to the Diversity Office for the Hackney Youth Parliament, or learning the ropes at the Artist Development Program at the Hackney Empire. The experience I gained from meeting and talking to such a varied group of people has made me the person I am today: much more than anything that could be gleaned from a text book.

This sense of sharing and learning from the world's cultures applies to the whole of London: from the curry houses of Tooting to the canals of Little Venice. But London (and the country, for that matter), is rapidly changing. And not for the better.

All around the capital, high rise council flats that have been home so many for so long are now seen as eyesores; whilst new million pound flat developments are being built just around the corner. Whole communities are losing this very sense of multiculturalism that is essential to their identity, as they are priced further and further out of London.

Whilst it's fantastic that there's been so much investment in more disadvantaged boroughs of London, it's hard to deny that this is for the benefit of a privileged few - not the people who have lived there for years and made the area what it is today. Put simply: if an area is going to be developed, it needs to be for the benefit of the whole community, not just those with money to spend.

And there are similar concerns brewing with self-expression too. France's headline grabbing ban on the burqa is prompting debates about whether we should adopt the same policy, for example - so where do we draw the line? When will it become unacceptable to watch a certain film, or like a particular band? We should be embracing these cultural differences (as we have been for years), not shying away from them.

What makes Britain (and London) 'Great' is that it houses such a tolerant culture that accepts and embraces people from all walks of life. It also isn't afraid to adopt traditions and lessons learned from these cultures, and then transform them into something that is inherently 'British'. This very sense of tolerance and diversity is on the line, and as a nation I fear we risk losing ourselves.

Jermain Jackman will speak at the upcoming TEDxEastEnd 'Society Beyond Borders' on 30th January 2016 at Hackney Empire. Please visit http://www.tedxeastend.com/event2016/ for more information and to buy tickets.

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