By Jasmine Belle, Spanish and Italian, Second Year
I have experienced on many occasions at university that moment when I tell people where I am from, and a barrage of negative opinions spills out of their mouths.
‘My dad told me I could go to any university but not Birmingham’, ‘I know someone who got mugged there three times’ or (my favourite) ‘Birmingham is a fun place … don’t, get me wrong it is a sh*thole though’.
When asking one of these people ‘Have you ever actually been to Birmingham?’, their response was ‘No, thank God not.’
It astounds me how the people who express these opinions do not seem to show any regard for how I might feel about my own city. Do they not realise it is insulting to openly criticise where someone else is from, especially when they don’t even know the person or place?
Surely, if we were talking about other aspects of my identity, such as race or religion, they would think twice.
Therefore, my only conclusion from these encounters is that there is an ingrained national prejudice against my city. Make no mistake, I was aware of this before I left for Bristol.
Do they not realise it is insulting to criticise openly where someone else is from?
However, hearing the opinions of non-Brummies at university has made this crystal clear.
Birmingham is the second biggest city in the UK with a population of over one million. We are, also, the youngest city in Europe (with the highest fraction of people under the age of 25) and one of the greenest in the continent.
Most people I speak to at uni are not even aware of this first fact (no, the second biggest city is NOT Manchester); testament to how overlooked we are.
So why is it that so many people have a prejudice against my city?
Perhaps our lack of recognition as a city comes from our geographical location. Birmingham sits in the heart of England, the Midlands. This puts us in the precarious position of being neither Northern nor Southern.
Or perhaps it is the notoriously unpopular accent (which I do not think is bad at all). When being told I am lucky I do not have this accent, it is not at all a compliment.
Try and deconstruct where your opinions come from
In my opinion, this negative attitude toward Birmingham is often an unconscious bias. We are a city of immigrants; always have been and very much still are. From the Irish immigrants who dug out the canals (the city has more than Venice), to the folk of the Windrush generation (including my grandfather from St Kitts), people from South Asia, West Africa, Eastern Europe, the list goes on.
Birmingham is a city that is always moving, its identity constantly in flux.
I think that the fact there are so many people from different ethnic backgrounds (51 per cent of Birmingham’s population are people of colour according to the 2021 census) causes people from particularly white, middle-class areas of the country to struggle to identify with the city. Therefore, they unconsciously have a negative view of it.
This is intrinsically linked to Birmingham’s history as a working-class city and a pivotal location during the industrial revolution.
Birmingham is a city that is always moving, its identity constantly in flux
It’s no wonder that the formerly named ‘Workshop of the World’ and ‘The City of a Thousand Trades’ has attracted many immigrants over the years. Of course, this industrial heritage may mean that the city is not as conventionally attractive as somewhere like Bristol.
However, it is important to recognise that it is cities like Birmingham that have fuelled the construction of the rest of the country. It is working-class people and immigrants who have been at the forefront of this.
It is concerning how this intersection of race and class seem to influence our society’s perception of a place. All in all, I hope that anyone reading this will think twice when tempted to say something disparaging about my city. Try and deconstruct where your opinions come from and why you think this. If you have never visited, please, keep your opinions to yourself!
What do you think about city stereotyping at university? Let us know @epigram_paper!