On the evening of Friday 25 July in my home town of Hull, two groups of men – one white and composed of locals and the other said to be made up of Iraqis and Kurds – fought each other in the Spring Bank and Pryme Street area of Hull. Knives and clubs were brandished. Fortunately police intervened rather speedily and no one was seriously injured – though several cars were badly damaged. 15 arrests were made for “offences ranging from racially-motivated behaviour to carrying an offensive weapon” (Hull Daily Mail).
Trouble flared again between the two groups around about 5 PM the following day (26th) and another 14 arrests were made.
The trouble was supposedly sparked by the arrest earlier on the Friday of a white man in connection with an attack on an Iraqi man the previous Sunday night (20 July).
In that incident the victim had been attacked by a group of white men in the Pryme Street car park and hit with a baseball bat. He ran off along Freetown Way but was knocked down by a vehicle which one of the white men drove onto the pavement to hit him. “Other cars driven by the group then blocked the road, preventing anyone helping him. The group surrounded Salar and, as he lay on the pavement, shouted more racist abuse at him” (Hull Daily Mail).
A senior officer has said that the trouble was not really about race but crime and that Humberside Police perceived the incident to be isolated and not indicative of a new trend.
Hopefully the police are correct – but there may have been a disturbing precursor on 15 April when an Iraqi man was severely beaten in Hull city centre by a group of white youths in broad daylight.
In the attack he was hit repeatedly with an iron bar and chased right across the city centre from Queens Gardens to Ferensway. “All around him, shoppers and office workers returning home stood and watched. No-one helped him. No-one called 999 during the half-hour attack.” (Hull Daily Mail). Police were only made aware when the man, covered in blood, managed to make his way to Hull Royal Infirmary.
Reporting of this incident caused outrage and the Hull Daily Mail printed several letters from readers protesting that the majority of Hull citizens were not racist and that the lack of assistance from passers-by was untypical. (In fact, the apparent indifference of the passers-by may not have been so much a reflection of racist callousness as the expression of an established psychological phenomenon – the Bystander Effect (John Darley & Bibb Latané, 1968) – whereby, in a large crowd of witnesses to a crime, sometimes no one phones the police because everyone thinks surely someone else will do it.)
Of course, racist violence – if that is what these attacks were – is a relatively new phenomenon to Hull. For one thing, there aren’t sizeable ethnic communities in the city. Unlike, say, West Yorkshire which has significant coloured immigrant populations, the Humber sub-region is almost completely ‘white indigenous’. Scunthorpe, with a noteworthy Asian community, is the exception; but that town has been held up by many as a model for good race relations.
So what is going on in Hull? Were these isolated incidents…or are they indeed harbingers of a disturbing new trend?
Certainly the incidents of 25 and 26 July rang alarm bells with some of the city’s ‘movers and shakers’. To his credit, in the week beginning 4 August editor John Meehan ran a series of articles in the Hull Daily Mail exploring just how much of a race relations problem Hull had and looking at the kind of tensions which had, in part at least, led to the violence. In doing so, the articles sought to explode a number of the myths around the ‘asylum seeker’ issue.
Village gossip mentality
I have to say that, much as am I appalled by the violent events reported above, none of it surprises me. Until a few months ago I lived in inner city west Hull where I found prejudice against asylum seekers – particularly Kosovans, Kurds and Iraqis – to be endemic in the pubs and clubs and even to some extent on the open street.
Little of it was expressed in outrightly racist terms. Only occasionally did I hear terms like “black bastards” or “foreign gits”. Rather, the stories circulating about the asylum seekers fuelled spiralling dislike and demands that something had to be done.
According to some of the tales, the asylum seekers could drive untaxed cars without insurance, without hindrance from the police. Social Services provided them with free mobile phones and handed out large one-off payments for items ranging from bedding to furniture to ‘white goods’. It was frequently alleged that asylum seekers were able to jump housing queues and often ended up with better accommodation that their indigenous neighbours in the queues. Potentially very dangerous were stories of groups of asylum seekers whistling at local women passing by and making salacious comments to them.
Trying to deconstruct some of these tales could be a risky business. Ask a question like “How do you know that?” or “What’s your evidence for that?” and the answer might be something like “Well, George told us.” As someone only recently arrived in the area and still not fully accepted myself, asking how ‘George’ got his information might easily lead to an argument and/or accusations that I was “one of them do-gooders” – or, even worse, that “you think asylum seekers are okay – you’d turn the country over to them!” Temporary ostracisation was my usual punishment for challenging the ‘accepted wisdom’. (On one occasion I was even threatened with violence!)
In Gravesian terms we’re dealing with the PURPLE vMEME’s ‘village gossip’ mentality. Investigating the facts behind the tale to find out the real truth is not important; what counts is who said it. If the tale originates from someone like ‘George’, accepted within the local community as a leader or influencer – tribal elder, if you will – then his authority will give the tale credence.
At this level, the Hull Daily Mail’s factual deconstruction of some of the myths surrounding asylum seekers will undoubtedly have done some real good. For many in Hull whose thinking is at the (PURPLE) tribal level, the Mail is a sort of superordinate authority. Whether its reporting is accurate or not is irrelevant, the fact the Mail said it must mean it’s true.
There’s also a stretch here towards BLUE’s ‘higher authority’ and the fact – genuinely awesome for some! – that the statement is in writing.
For others, though, the dense text and hard factual writing contained in the Mail’s articles will have been just too much for their PURPLE. (PURPLE works mostly off the oral tradition.) All ‘George’ will have to do is say that the Mail’s got it wrong or that John Meehan’s become a ‘do-gooder’ and George’s reiteration of the myths will stand as ‘the truth’.
Bombarding such people with facts that there are only around 900 asylum seekers currently in Hull, that they receive only 70% of the standard Income Support available to the indigenous population and that central, not local, government is concerned with their accommodation will have only a very limited effect. NLP shows us time and time again that, if somebody believes something, to that person it is the ‘truth’…and changing people’s beliefs is a notoriously difficult business!
What we’re seeing is the rejection by PURPLE – the dominant cultural vMEME for many in the deprived areas of Hull in which the asylum seekers are housed – of what is perceived as invaders from a foreign tribe.
PURPLE tribalism is the foundation of homo sapiens’ move beyond animal-level instinctive living – and as such is the beginning of civilisation. Although ignored – and often despised – by higher vMEMES, it lies at the root of our identity as a people – our sense of belonging.
To create this sense of tribal identity, PURPLE differentiates itself from other tribal identities. This drive to differentiate can manifest itself in different ways and at different levels. So it can be:-
- Bransholme Estate vs Orchard Park Estate
- West Hull vs East Hull
- North Bank vs South Bank
- Yorkshire vs Lancashire
- England vs Scotland
- Black vs White
- Manchester United fan vs Liverpool fan
- Local vs Asylum Seeker
The more dangerous and/or threatening the ‘other lot’ seem, the more PURPLE seeks to differentiate. At its extreme PURPLE may even demonise those who are ‘not of our tribe’. Differences such as language, religion and skin colour can all serve the differentiation process.
Groups of 20 or more Kosovans or Iraqis gathered in a street, jabbering away in a language that obviously isn’t English and using alien body language gestures, can seem quite threatening. (I know – on a number of occasions I’ve had to step into the gutter in West Hull’s Coltman Street to get around them!)
Their poor English makes it difficult to communicate with locals; their religion forbids them to drink alcohol so they usually don’t attempt to enter the pubs; and their looks – dark hair and swarthy skin – makes them visually distinctive.
Separated by these factors and increasingly disliked by many of their neighbours, the asylum seekers’ own PURPLE leads them to seek security in creating their own mini-ghettos.
Small wonder that the PURPLE of the locals feels like it’s got an army of invaders on its territory!
Combined with this sense of threat is a sense of betrayal. Hull City Council – like the Hull Daily Mail, a kind of superordinate authority to the tribes in Hull – has done its BLUE duty to central government and willingly taken its share of asylum seekers under the 2000 dispersion policy. In the cause of BLUE-ORANGE efficiency the asylum seekers have been put into the lowest rent districts like Spring Bank, Coltman Street and Beverley Road – ostensibly minimising costs to the ‘taxpayer’. The Council has not worked at the PURPLE level. There was little – if any! – consultation with the indigenous populations and no real attempt to prepare them for the arrival of the asylum seekers.
In this state it is not surprising that the PURPLE ‘village gossip machine’ has gone full tilt into rumour manufacture.
In this state PURPLE is highly susceptible to RED-BLUE demagogy – whether of the variety pedalled by the racists of the National Front or that of radical Islamic mullahs. Throw in some in-the-moment RED yobbishness and events like those of 25-26 July are almost inevitable.
The criticality of tribalism
The GREEN vMEME’s drive for egalitarianism is cutting edge thinking for many in politics and local government. In GREEN’s worldview, everyone is worthy, those who are disadvantaged are to be assisted, and we all can live as one.
While GREEN thinking ensures that people seeking refuge are welcomed and treated decently, it ignores – or even derides as ‘outdated’ and ‘primitive’ – PURPLE’s tribal turf protectiveness. Thus, in GREEN’s view, it is okay to dump clusters of asylum seekers into low-rent socially-deprived areas. GREEN is disappointed and even irritated that these disadvantaged people aren’t welcomed with open arms.
The more hard-nosed thinking of BLUE (concerned with order) and ORANGE (concerned with effectiveness) has taken note of the difficulties and costs involved in integrating asylum seekers and set maximum ‘cluster levels’. In Hull, this is very marginally over 1300; so, at a current level of around 900, Hull is well below its ‘cluster capacity’. If you add an estimated further 1,500 refugees living in Hull who have been validated as ‘genuine’ by the Home Office, a rough total of approximately 2,400 Kosovans, Kurds, Iraqis, etc, it’s still a proverbial drop in the ocean when set against Hull’s total population of around 260,000. There shouldn’t be a problem. So say BLUE, ORANGE and GREEN.
Tell that to the PURPLE of the residents of Coltman Street when they see 20 or so men of another tribe on our street, living in our houses, acting in their strange and alien ways.
Colour of skin comes into it only as differentiator – a mark of being from another tribe. A large black family lives on Coltman Street, with its members occupying several houses up and down the street. They speak in that distinctive flat Hull accent, go to the local pubs, play in the local football teams and in almost every conceivable way act little different to their white-skinned neighbours – by whom they seem to be totally-accepted. A couple of them have even married local whites!
They dislike the asylum seekers as much as many of their white neighbours – because they are part of the same tribe and their PURPLE feels threatened too by the almost-overnight arrival of the asylum seekers on their turf.
As Don Beck demonstrated in early 90s South Africa when he used Spiral Dynamics to take race out of politics for the likes of Nelson Mandela and F W DeKlerk – see: Don Beck & South Africa – it’s never about colour of skin; it’s about the neurological systems which shape the way people think and the values and beliefs that fit with those systems.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do…?
Before I moved to East Yorkshire, I lived on the south-west side of Leeds and spent a great deal of time in Armley. With high unemployment amongst a largely-unskilled male population, women struggling to make ends meet in part-time factory, shop and cleaning jobs, dilapidated housing, high rates of drugs and alcohol abuse, burglaries, vandalism and other petty crimes, its problems could be said to be comparable to several areas of Hull.
Armley also had a small population of Indians – both Sikhs and Hindus. They were heartily disliked by the local white population – reflected in most of the whites refusing to use their shops. Even the local curry house struggled to do much business!
In one of the pubs I occasionally ventured into, I noted a Sikh man who was part of a bunch of male regulars – all white, foul-mouthed and ‘rough’ – several with that kind of granite-hard look that miners and steelworkers often have!
The Sikh wore his full beard and turban and still had a noticeable Asian accent. Otherwise he dressed like his white mates. He swore like they did, made dirty jokes, knew his football and bought his round. He even leered at the women they leered at – though he was careful never to be the first to leer.
He would speak to other Asians in the street – but, as far as I could tell, only if they spoke to him first.
The Sikh had decided which tribe he wanted to belong to – and, therefore, which tribe he didn’t want to belong to. And he had succeeded in being accepted into his new tribe.
Interestingly Spring Bank community leader Frank McConaghy told the Hull Daily Mail: “It should have been planned much better, integrating smaller groups into all areas of the city where they would have been welcomed.
“That didn’t happen. We now have them in ghettos around the city.”
So…integration at an almost individual level – as per the Sikh man in Armley – or relatively-sizeable clustering, as per Coltman Street?
If those 2,400 asylum seekers and refugees were dispersed almost individually throughout the city, would anyone really notice that Hull had taken its share of them?
Of course, the PURPLE of the asylum seekers drives them to want to be clustered together – seeking safety and belonging in their tribal identities. (“I want to be with my Kurd brothers!”, etc) So, if they were effectively isolated from their tribe, they would need massive support to integrate quickly into another tribe; and undoubtedly the stress of having one’s PURPLE so discomforted would lead to some psychiatric casualties.
BLUE and ORANGE would most likely reject this kind of idea on cost grounds while GREEN would ring its hands at the cruelty inflicted on people who had already suffered so much.
So what else do we do?
There won’t be a Bradford-style ‘race-riot’ – not even a small-scale one like Burnley. There simply aren’t enough asylum seekers and refugees in Hull. But there may yet be murder. Remember, at its most extreme, PURPLE can say: if you’re not from our tribe, then you’re not at my level. Sub-human even, maybe. So we can do to you what whatever we need to do in the interests of our tribe.