Stephanie Phillips is a London-based freelance journalist and content writer, specialising in music, race and feminism.
If you’re a TV addict like me you might have noticed that there has been a wealth of programmes tackling racism in the past few weeks, particularly focusing on the growing racial tensions in Luton.
My Hometown Fanatics, BBC Three, and Proud and Prejudiced, Channel 4, both focused on the Luton-based extremist groups the EDL and Muslims Against Crusaders. Another Channel 4 show about racism and multiculturalism is Make Bradford British; a Big Brother-esque two-part series that throws a mixed group of people from Bradford who failed a British citizen test into a house together to see if they can figure out “what it means to be British”. Yep, that age old question. Considering that we’ve been debating that for a while now it seems that they’ve been set up to fail really.
Now I have absolutely no idea why TV executives have decided that now is the time to discuss racism. Maybe they only just realised it actually existed. Maybe someone, a friend, acquaintance or even a passerby on the street, took them aside and whispered into their ear: “Oi you know that racism that you read about once. It still happens, you should do a programme about it.” Who knows how it happens, I suppose we can only imagine.
What I do know is that as a black woman who craves any type of representation in the media you would think I’d be happy that to have a debate about racism in Britain today on a nationwide stage. I would love that but I don’t believe that is the main aim of any of these programmes and that is why I was so desperately disappointed with all of them.
Make Bradford British sets out from the start deciding that multiculturalism has failed. I think that’s bollocks but everyone is entitled to their opinions not matter how much they frighteningly mimic David Cameron and his ridiculous world view. The housemates are all from a variety of backgrounds and are given the overwhelming task of deciding what it means to be British. Many of the housemates have their own prejudices and the programme is full of triggering and offensive language.
My main problem with the first episode is the way one of the Muslim housemates was set up to be the ‘problem’ of the house. Rashid was played out as the episode’s villain because he would not compromise missing out on praying at the Mosque to join the group on certain outings. Although he did finally give in and prayed while going out with the group, leading one white woman to realise that his faith and hers were extremely similar, I do not think the public will perceive him well. Rashid was portrayed in a negative light for the majority of the episode confirming many British people’s attitudes towards Muslims. I do not believe the one revelation about his character and faith at the end of the episode makes up for it. There is still another episode due to air Thursday 8 March, which could take a more positive turn but I do not believe it will because the makers of these shows are only interested in drama and shock value which leads me to the other two shows.
My Hometown Fanatics featured BBC Three presenter Stacey Dooley talking to the EDL and extremist Muslim groups with the aim of finding out why extremist groups are popping up in Luton. As you’ll probably be able to guess Dooley comes to no clear conclusion and, due to her truly terrible journalism skills, probably makes things worse.
Instead of taking a clear, rational look at what both groups had to say and using their own contradictory and nonsensical words to trip them up with Dooley decides to argue with every person she sees even going so far to say that it’s a “shame” that some Muslim women protesting had been rude to her. A “shame” is it. That a few women have in your eyes brought down all Muslim women because of what ‘they’ said. That’s a whole other blog post that I will tackle later because this one is already far too long. All the viewer learns from this programme is extreme, radicalised views that are great for getting annoyed at but do not actually tackle the real problem in Britain.
Proud and Prejudiced takes a slightly more removed view but still has the same result. The opposing groups both had chances to show themselves and show themselves up, which they did. The EDL leader, Stephen Lennon, repeatedly claimed that the EDL were not a racist group yet when Lennon brought out an Asian EDL member to speak at a rally the crowd turned, spat out racist remarks and several fights broke out. In turn Muslims Against Crusaders had their remarks countered by another member of the Muslim community who says the leader, Sayful Islam, did not know as much about the scriptures as he claimed.
In the end all three programmes are made for entertainment rather than to actually inform viewers. Producers will focus on drama and extreme views, which people can talk about in the office the next day, rather than a frank discussion on race.
What I would like to see is an hour dedicated to a roomful of people, a moderator and the free flow of ideas, experiences and values. Not to say that this would bring about the end of racism as we know it, but wouldn’t that be lovely, but it would at least inform the nation about what’s really going on in the lives of black people in Britain today. A safe space to take part in an honest discussion is the stepping stone to first understanding what racism is and then to breaking it down. But, I guess that would be boring to watch, or would it.