Caught between two cultures

Adrian Thompson is black - and very British. He speaks with the classic clipped accent and shares the habits of any typical English 17-year-old. In his spare time, he loves to meet his friends in pubs, and on Saturdays he roots for his favorite soccer team, the Tottenham Hotspurs.

''My parents came from Barbados 20 years ago, and they want to go home,'' he says. ''When I went there on a trip, I felt out of place, strange. I was born here. I feel British.''

Adrian's story reveals the ray of hope behind Europe's racial crisis. The millions of nonwhite, and often non-Christian, guest workers cannot be sent back to their native countries. Experts and a growing number of Europeans realize immigrants like Adrian must be integrated and healthy multiracial societies forged.

''Europe is too far down the multiracial road to turn around,'' says Aaron Haynes of the British Council of Racial Equality. ''Now the real question is whether society can give these young people their rightful place.''

Such integration will be difficult. Most first-generation immigrants will probably never be comfortable in the alien culture of their adopted homes. Studies show they will talk of returning to their native countries, only to stay on for fear of even worse economic conditions there. But they will likely never fit in well.

''Many in the first generation can't even speak the host country's language, '' says Muhammad Anwar of the Council of Racial Equality. ''The real question in race relations is what happens with the second generation.''

These children generally have no language problem. They also have no other home, having been born and raised in Europe. Still, their adjustment problems are severe, raising the danger they will become an unwanted generation, precariously stuck between two cultures.

''In France, you are a filthy Arab and in Algeria, you are a filthy immigrant ,'' says Farida, a top model who was born in Paris of Algerian parents.

Even the seemingly well-adjusted Adrian expresses similar sentiments: ''I have trouble communicating because we come from different cultures. Yet I don't mix with whites either. I know I am different.''

THE young West Indians, Algerians, and Turks do face immense difficulties. Unemployment, a problem throughout Europe, strikes these generally unskilled youths hardest of all.

In the run-down, largely black London neighborhood of Brixton, for example, community relations director George Grieve says half the men under age 30 are out of work. German and French officials cite similar figures.

Their opportunities to learn a skill and gain a job are slim. Coming from poor homes in which a foreign language is often spoken, many of the children don't receive even a basic high school diploma. From this environment spring the crime, the drug abuse, and the prostitution that mark many immigrant ghettos.

''There's a sense of hopelessness here,'' Mr. Grieve says. ''People just sit around. They don't want to create problems, but when you are frustrated and alienated, anything's possible.''

The implication is clear: ''Anything'' could be a repeat of the 1981 riot that devastated much of Brixton.

But it could also mean a peaceful outcome. Grieve and other black leaders in Brixton say another explosion can be avoided. Much, they say, already has been done to drain reservoirs of pent-up anger.

Modest amounts of money have been given to black groups to spend on housing, education, and community self-help programs. Police have begun meeting with black leaders to defuse potential confrontations. Fewer blacks are being stopped for identity searches, and Scotland Yard is recruiting more blacks. As a result , resentment against white-dominated Scotland Yard is down.

''Something good has started,'' says Courteney A. Laws, director of the Brixton Neighborhood Community Association. ''We are working together to keep troublemakers from the streets. There's still anger, but there's more understanding. That's important.''

OTHER European countries are also making efforts to integrate their young immigrants. Though France's Socialist government is dallying with the idea of a repatriation program, it has also braved its austerity budgets to spend millions of francs on job training and housing programs for minorities. In West Germany, impressive gains have been made in the education of Turkish youth.

''Ten years ago, two-thirds of these youth dropped out,'' says Christian Rosenmoller of the German Labor Ministry. ''Today, 90 percent graduate from high school. Just as important, more Turks are receiving vocational education: This year 45,000 will graduate from vocational colleges.''

These graduates hold the key to the immigrants' future. If they fail, a permanent underclass may be formed. If they succeed, they may blaze the path toward full psychological as well as legal citizenship in Europe.

Modest advances are already evident. Farida, the model, is not alone: France has its fair share of North African leaders, artists, writers, and professors who have made names for themselves.

On a less glamorous level, many North Africans have ended day labor and become shopowners.

Britain seems even further along the path. Asian businessmen are moving quickly from small businesses to large import-export firms. There were six Asian candidates for Parliament in the last general election.

Blacks have become more active in government. In the county where Brixton is located, they hold four seats on the local council. Scotland Yard reports that every fifth new policeman hired now in London is black.

To be sure, much more progress is needed, even in Britain. Despite political rights, there still are no minority members of Parliament. The number of minority policemen remains insufficient: Less than 1 percent of the huge 21,000 -member force is West Indian or Asian.

''We have much further to go,'' admits Commander John Newing, director of Scotland Yard's community relations department. ''But at least we've made this a priority. Within 10 years, I hope there will be 2,000 minority officers, 10 percent of the force.''

Such ambitious goals point toward a multiracial Europe, not too different from the United States. Indeed, as more and more Europeans begin to envisage this change, they look to the US for guidance on both what to do and what to avoid.

Unlike the US, the Continent has no history of institutionalized racism. It now must hold back the dangerous forces that would write one. It also must fight the danger that the immigrants will become an uneducated, impoverished nation within a nation.

Here the US experience helps. Despite the lingering reluctance to see their societies as a mix of different cultures, the Europeans admire what they view as America's ability to take in immigrants from all over the world and form the resulting mosaic into a cohesive nation.

''We will have to learn that foreign culture is good, that we will benefit by it,'' says Gunter Lochner, deputy director of the West German ministerial working group on foreigners. ''Turkish culture will become part of our culture.''

Europeans even look to the black experience in America for advice. The march toward civil rights, the formation of a black middle class, and the success of Jesse Jackson's campaign all show the path that many here hope to take.

''I'm sure there's racism there, too,'' Adrian says. ''But people mix more in the United States, things change faster. Black Britons have to get as much pride as black Americans.''

Other articles in this series ran April 25 and 26.

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