I realise that “councillors go on junket” is hardly news, but the brazenness of sending no less than thirteen Belfast city councillors to live it up in Chicago while studying anti-racist strategies has raised a few eyebrows locally. At least it’s being paid for by the EU, rather than Belfast ratepayers.
There was a bit of a discussion of this on the wireless the other day where a councillor (I believe it was one of the Maskey family, although that doesn’t narrow it down much) was defending the jaunt. Why, he was asked, couldn’t the councillors study racism in somewhere like Bradford or Oldham? (One might also mention religious sectarianism in Glasgow, itself a product of Irish immigration.) Our public representative replied that the English cities were only on the first stage of dealing with racism, while Chicago had tackled the problem successfully. I’m sure Chicagoans would have something to say about that.
Actually, there is an interesting parallel. If racial tensions have decreased within the Chicago city boundaries, it surely has something to do with the incorporation of a layer of black community leaders into the Democratic Party machine, but also rather a lot to do with Chicago’s whites heading for the safely Caucasian ‘burbs and abandoning the city proper to the minorities. You know, the same way Belfast Prods move out to East Belfast, where there’s nothing but Prods as far as the eye can see, or to satellite towns like Ards and Lisburn. It’s much the same in Derry, where a lot of Derry people like to backslap themselves about the lack of sectarianism, which is easy to believe when the Prods are all on the other side of the river.
Of course, this sort of white flight can only ever be a stopgap – just look at the way Lisburn is starting to be affected by West Belfast creep. But it’s an interesting theory for peace studies academics – conflict resolution by gentrification? Maybe we should draft in Sarah Beeny.