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The Stirrer stirred it recently by reporting on two meetings organised by Birmingham Council, supposedly representing wide sections of society but attended mostly only by the white section of society. But Mike Drayton takes issue with the suggestion that institutional racism is to blame...

So the Stirrer attends a couple of meetings in Birmingham [link], a great city populated by people of many different races and cultures, and is struck by how these meetings are attended by mainly white people.

I'm not.

These kinds of meeting are perceived (rightly or wrongly) as boring, a waste of time and a bit of a talking shop. They are attended largely by middle-class folk with an interest in local politics and are a minority interest.

The reason people don't attend has nothing to do with institutional racism, but simply because people are not interested and don't want to be there.

When I worked in NHS psychology services, first in Wolverhampton and later in South Birmingham colleagues and myself worked really hard to involve people of different cultures in the planning of services.

We were acutely aware that, for example African Caribbean people made up a large proportion of folk getting diagnosed with mental health problems but had a very low take up of psychotherapy services. In other words, if you were Black and diagnosed with a serious mental health problem you would get medication and perhaps full board at All Saints hospital. If you were white with a similar problem you would be more likely to get to talk to a psychotherapist at the leafy Uffculme Clinic in Moseley.

This was about five years ago but I bet things haven't changed much.

As a clinician and a manager in the health service this fact upset and disturbed me. My colleagues and I tried hard to make things better. But with a few exceptions, most people from minority ethnic groups did
not seem at all interested in joining our committees or receiving psychotherapy.

This is the psychology of leadership and inter-group relations.

Every large group in society has its organisations and committees. These are usually run by a few dedicated die-hards. I have been on the branch committee of my professional organisation for ten years and recently resigned as Chair. It was a bugger to get people other than the usual suspects, to turn up at committee meetings or take any responsibility. Members, however, loved, the events that we worked hard to organise (forgive me if I seem bitter!)

I'll bet that The Asian, African Caribbean, or Chinese people who are the sort to join committees and take an interest are all busy attending meetings about raising funds to repair the roof of the Mosque or such like.

This is only part of the story I'm sure but before raising the spectre of racism institutional or whatever normal human processes should be considered.

Surely, the responsibility for not attending the meetings that the Stirrer was present at, must partly rest with the non-White folk who couldn't be bothered to attend.


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