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Making ethnic diversity mainstream

Why is ethnic diversity important? Ethnic identity is often a very personal subject that impacts us in our daily lives, but how individuals from different communities function has wider implications for society as a whole—both good and bad. Complex cultural, social and economic factors all interplay to impact how different ethnic groups function in a given area.

Ethnic diversity can be a difficult topic to discuss. People from majority ethnic groups may be wary of causing offence, while minorities may be concerned of coming across as separatist, angry or ungrateful. In order to understand it truly and, more importantly, for ethnically diverse societies to function as efficiently as possible, the issues need to be identified and discussed.

A recent article in the economist attributed much of London’s success to the ethnic diversity of its residents. Immigrants bring new skills, ideas and products in to the economy that can boost economic productivity.  Some benefits include different foods, art and cultural products, as well as the fact that having friends from different communities often broadens our minds. It would be hard to imagine the UK, and in particular London, without its diversity.

However ethnic diversity can also be problematic. It can lead to market failures in the private sector, as products and services may not be appropriate for different groups. It is particularly problematic in the public sector, as the effectiveness of public services in ethnically diverse areas is varied. In the UK, this is demonstrated by the fact that higher levels of ethnic diversity are generally correlated with higher social and economic deprivation in areas.

Often the problems associated with ethnic diversity make it difficult to harness and benefit from its positives, but this weekend demonstrated to me that the benefits can be amazing.

On Friday the 14th of September 2012 I attended the 12th Annual Asian Achievers Awards, at Grosvenor House in Park Lane. I was there because a few months back I nominated my friends Indian dance company, Bollywood Dance London (BDL), for an award in the category of Arts, Media and Culture. They were shortlisted within the top 4 in their category so we went a long to the ceremony. The event was full of important members of the British Asian community, as well as politicians and celebrities such as Kevin Pieterson and Lord Archer. It was surreal as we were up against many well-established contenders,  so we weren’t expecting to win, but went along to enjoy the experience.

The reason that I nominated BDL was because I truly believe that they are pushing the boundaries of traditional ‘ethnic’ businesses, in ways that should be appreciated and emulated by others. Most stay in areas where there is a high density of people from specific ethnic groups, as there are fewer risks involved in setting up and establishing successful ‘ethnic’ businesses here. Achieving success in the mainstream is a completely different story. Also, staying in ‘ethnic’ areas means that benefits to wider society are restricted. Services are generally only accessible to members of specific communities and not the wider public.

BDL defies these characteristics. By focusing on professionalism and excellence in dance, they have broken in to the mainstream of London’s dance scene. They have established themselves at London’s premier Dance Studios, Pineapple Studios and Dance Works, which enables them to attract a highly diverse client base made up of dance enthusiasts from many professional and ethnic backgrounds. The reason this strategy is beneficial for both minority communities and mainstream society is because it makes minority culture accessible to all audiences. In the case of BDL, both Asians and non-Asians have the opportunity to appreciate and partake in the best that the art form has to offer.

BDL won the award! This was a great source of pride and excitement for the company, but it also felt like a breakthrough for the Asian businesses sector as a whole. To see that the judging panel of such a well-established organisation was willing to appreciate and support the efforts of a young company that is trying to break the mould by doing something that many others are unable to, or fear doing, was refreshing. This leaves me hopeful that if others are willing to take similar risks, they too may be commended for their efforts and supported by their respective communities, as well as wider society.

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