Sunday 21 November 2004

Anglo-Celtic enclave

One consequence of being a good listener is that people occasionally tell you things you’d rather not hear.

Last week I spent a couple of days in Rockhampton, a city of 60,000 inhabitants on Australia’s northeast coast, just above the Tropic of Capricorn.

Map of Australia's northeast coast, with Rockhampton at its center

In mid-November it was already hot and humid. Not the overwhelming heat and humidity of Tokyo in summer—mushiatsusa (蒸し暑さ) in Japanese—that doesn’t arrive in Rockhampton until February. But, for me, unpleasant nonetheless. The cab driver who took me back to my motel after dinner didn’t agree.

“Best climate in the world,” he told me. “No winter and nine months of summer.”

By the time we’d pulled in under the awning outside reception it was raining lightly and he was telling me about the enormous house he’d built on an acre and a half of land for a bit over a hundred thousand dollars. Including a swimming pool.

Then he looked me in the eye and said: “But do you want to know the best thing about Rocky?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“No ethnics.”

Good listeners can embrace another person’s world view as easily as they put on a hat or an overcoat but the cab driver must have detected a flicker of disquiet, for he added hastily:

“Not that there’s anything wrong with them… it’s just that in the big cities they all want to live in the same area.”

He was referring to the tendency of new immigrants to form ethnic enclaves, by clustering together in a particular neighborhood or suburb. In Sydney in the fifties, during the first wave of immigration from southern Europe, Italians moved to Leichhardt while Greeks chose Marrickville. Thirty years later, immigrants from Southeast Asia settled in Fairfield, Ashfield, and Cabramatta.

The Rockhampton Tourist and Business Information website notes that:

On census night in Rockhampton, 7 August 2001, persons of indigenous origin totaled 3,006. The remaining 95% of Rockhampton’s population were found to have Australian (48%), English (37%) or Irish (12%) ancestry. English topped the list as the most prevalent language spoken at home with a total of 94%. The three most common languages after English were Chinese, Tagalog (Filipino) and Japanese.

Thinking about the conversation later, I was struck by a paradox: what the cab driver valued most highly about Rockhampton—the homogeneity of its population—was also the source of his resentment towards immigrants. Whilst relishing life in his 95% Anglo-Celtic enclave, he was hostile to the idea of “ethnic enclaves”.

And yet, in their paper Multiculturalism and the spatial assimilation of migrant groups: The Melbourne and Sydney experience, James Forrest and Michael Poulsen point out:

Based on port-of-entry considerations, spatial concentration is likely to be highest in the first generation (immigrants born overseas), which Jones (1996) argues is largely the case. For their children—the second generation—hybridization is expected to occur, as members of a previously different culture become a mix between their migrant and host society cultures. Grandchildren of the original migrants (the third generation) are expected to have become fully assimilated with the host society in terms of occupations, education and membership of host society culture and institutions. Clearly, this process takes time; for some it takes a shorter time, perhaps just two generations; for others it takes longer.

I was vaguely aware that such enclaves “are a transitory phenomenon on the way to spatial and social assimilation”. But I didn’t raise this with the cab driver. Nor did I tell him that, since the Anglo-Celtic enclave in which I grew up was a spiritual, cultural, and intellectual wasteland, I’d rather put a bullet in my head than live in a place without “ethnics”. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to be a good listener and a good arguer. And I long ago lost interest in changing anyone’s mind.

To each his own.

Yet I’m continually amazed at how individuals can perceive and experience the same people or events or situations in such radically different ways. It’s a miracle we manage to find any common ground.

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I too am a good listener and have found myself in similarly awkward situations. I have to say, I seriously doubt "the source of his resentment towards immigrants" was as stated. People come up with all sorts of half-baked justifications for their racism, which usually have nothing to do with the real reasons.

Posted by language hat on 21 November 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Um, by "racism" I mean, of course, "fear and hatred of people different from oneself." Yank shorthand. Sorry.

Posted by language hat on 22 November 2004 (Comment Permalink)

"Not that there’s anything wrong with them… it’s just that in the big cities they all want to live in the same area."

i wonder if his problem was really that they live in the same area, or rather that by doing so they maintain the same language and culture, different from his own. it's easy to embrace diversity as a vague concept when it's a social norm, but it's more difficult in a specific reality when doing so involves altering social norms, e.g. speaking english.

Posted by scott reynen on 22 November 2004 (Comment Permalink)

One fascinating thing is that it doesn't need racism for such enclaves to form, only mild preference. See this article:

Posted by Kevin Marks on 22 November 2004 (Comment Permalink)

It is ironic that it's precisely such attempts to find "common ground" with others that causes such enclaves to emerge.

One of the downsides of racially and socially diverse areas as the one that I live in is that neighbors often don't even seem to talk to each other, unless it's down at the fancy local market that sells Thai, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Greek, and almost everything else except "hot dogs."

Heck, after a year, I only know the neighbors on one side of us, and we've never been inside each other's house.

Merely saying hello to the Chinese couple and the Black gentleman walking his collie probably doesn't do much to bridge cultural gaps.

I do get to occasionally talk with the Chinese lady who operates the Tai Chi center and to the black woodcarver who runs my carving class, but almost all the people I interact with regularly are still middle-class, upper class, whites, who turn out to be "extended family" members.

Posted by loren on 22 November 2004 (Comment Permalink)

I'm not sure we do find common ground all that often. Think on it: a popular theme for books and movies is the central characters misunderstanding or misinterpreting each other, and then the rest of the story revolves around the act of clarification.

I do hear what you're saying about diversity, and rejecting a homogeneous environment. However, I'm not sure that diversity is solely based on color and country of origin.

Posted by Shelley on 25 November 2004 (Comment Permalink)

coincidentally, I just read a blog entry by Bob Harris, which spoke to the exact opposite of this:
Something I love about Los Angeles... and America
especially this paragraph:
"Think about that for a moment.  It wasn't so long ago that something like that was a great, impossible project dreamed of in the abstract by idealists -- a world in which people of vastly different cultures really can get along, respecting and listening to and learning from each other.  And man, that happens every damn day in my neighborhood, at least a little, and often quite a lot."
quite a world we have here...
thanks for the thoughtful blog.

Posted by etaoin on 28 November 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Australia,much like the Netherlands,has been quite the multicultural failure.Both countries are experiencing huge problems with parents taking 'white' kids out of diverse schools and putting them into the privates because of ethnic tribalism and harrassment(who'd have thought 20 years ago that today anti-white racism would be the biggest problem we're facing as multicultural societies?).The white flight phenomenon is out of control in both countries.Homogenity now means peace while diversity means torment in the minds of most Aussies and Dutch thesedays.

Perhaps it was a case of 'too much too soon'.

Posted by Johann on 29 November 2004 (Comment Permalink)

"who'd have thought 20 years ago that today anti-white racism would be the biggest problem we're facing as multicultural societies?"

Um... I don't think that now, and I'm... surprised that you do.

Posted by language hat on 2 December 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Johann, I think we must live in Australias that exist in parallel universes, because I don't see much evidence for your assertions. Far from being havens for 'white flight', the private schools I've visited in the past year have been packed with the children of immigrants, desperate to give their children a leg up. My inner-suburban home has gone up in value by roughly 400% in less than ten years (oh, how we old-timers bemoan this!), as rich white people with small families and higher incomes, have moved back into the inner ring around Sydney, while the ppor have fled to Kellyville to live in what can only euphemistically be called suburbs. If there's 'white flight' it's in the opposite direction from that usually envisaged.

So far as tribalism in schools, one needs only to look at Trinity or Kings in Sydney, or Scotch in Melbourne, to realise that ethnic grouping thrives at the elite private schools, and that the children of immigrants are increasingly dominating the culture there. Hang out on College Street of a morning and see what I mean. IIRC some private school 'old-boys' have bemoaned the numerical domination by 'ethnic' children, because they can no longer win at rugby.

I spend a bit of time in Amsterdam each year. From my perspective there are few similarities between Australia and the Netherlands.

Posted by rocky on 3 December 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Strange instance of synchronicity... I read your post today after being made extremely uncomfortable by an elderly lady on the train on my way to work. She complained about the incomprehensibility of the announcement made for the next stop and used that to launch into a rant about how it was "third world" it was around here (on the North Shore line, just coming up on St Leonards station, and I've yet to see anywhere on the northern side of Sydney harbor that struck me as "third world"). She mentioned she had a friend who lived in Rockhampton who found it was getting too third world there-- at 95% anglo-white population, I kind of shudder to think what their perception of acceptible ethnicity was.

Posted by ARJ on 10 December 2004 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour