Immigration and Multiculturalism: Cosmopolitan Cities

The Notting Hill Carnival.
People traveling in a subway car in the London Underground.

As explained in the previous chapter, racial tensions in the mid-20th century caused the British government to reverse its open door policy. This meant that immigrants from colonies and former colonies no longer had an easy way into the country. Nevertheless, even after the policy change, Britain has continued to be an attractive destination for people from around the world.

In the last decades, after Britain’s migration policy shift, a large portion of the immigrants has comprised asylum seekers, eastern European laborers and foreign students at prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge. In other words, for the quality of British educational institutions, some of the world’s brightest minds have arrived in Britain, and largely due to EU law and other international agreements, many low-skilled people and qualified professionals with limited English skills have showed up. This, quite naturally, has made Britain yet more diverse — perhaps even balkanized — and has allowed the country’s international profile to be further raised.

Something for everybody

As can be expected of a country taking in many people of various backgrounds, integration and assimilation of newly-arrived people take place at various levels in British society. However, cultural differences are still often clear to see, particularly in the large cities, where people with different customs, religions and moral values live side by side. Here, in the crowded metropolises, the choice of clothing, religious symbols and restaurants, among other things, give clear hints about people’s cultural or ethnic affiliation, and in the same way, contribute to creating what is sometimes referred to as melting pots. These same cultural differences, furthermore, offer something for almost everybody to enjoy, which means that inhabitants and visitors alike to Britain usually find sights and communities in the British cities where they feel at home.

The Notting Hill Carnival

Among the largest immigrant communities in Britain, where people from South Asia likely feel at home, are the Indian and Pakistani communities. These groups, favored by a long history in Britain, have been able to adjust to life on the rainy island and be relatively economically prosperous, without fully assimilating to other Brits or giving up their renowned food culture. The much smaller Caribbean diaspora, just like the Indian and Pakistani communities, have not given up their original culture either, and in its honor organize Europe’s largest street festival in London every year. This festival, known as the Notting Hill Carnival, includes music, dance, colorful costumes and lots of food, and attracts people from a broad range of ethnic backgrounds. The carnival-district of Notting Hill, thus, aptly symbolizes how immigration has both added to and divided British society, since the district saw large race riots break out in 1958.