A new series attempting to address changing white working lives is fundamentally flawed, writes Yuri Prasad
The trailer for BBC2’s new series entitled the “White Season” could easily be mistaken for a British National Party (BNP) recruitment campaign.
In it a series of brown hands scrawl messages in foreign languages upon face of a balding white man. In the background Billy Bragg sings out a call for the building of a new Jerusalem.
Eventually the man’s face is covered in so much ink that he can no longer be seen against the black background.
The catch line of this appalling advert is, “Is the white working class becoming invisible?” and its message could hardly be clearer – yes it is, and it’s the foreigners who are to blame.
The notion of the “white working class” being in crisis is one that has gripped the imagination of newspaper editors and pundits for some years.
They argue that the decline in manufacturing, alongside the rise of multiculturalism, has led to a loss of identity for white workers.
Whites, they say, are ignored by the political establishment and are now so alienated that they are afraid to even speak their minds.
The BBC’s commissioning editor, Richard Klein, says that the series is a response to his discovery that white working class voices are rarely heard on TV, and that when they are, they are given roles that lead to them being derided as “chavs” or “white trash”.
This is a bit rich coming from the boss of a channel that has fed us EastEnders and its host of “working class” stereotypes for the past two decades.
Nevertheless it soon becomes clear that Klein has little intention of using his series to allow working class people, and their many varied lives, to find expression.
Instead we are given programmes like Denys Blakeway’s Rivers of Blood, which is an attempt to rehabilitate the racist Tory Enoch Powell.
Blakeway’s film is filthy. Its thesis is that 40 years ago Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech correctly identified the “crisis” that mass non-white immigration was going to bring to Britain, but that the political establishment was too scared to embrace his truth.
Powell is cast as a brave, if sometimes poorly advised, champion of the “forgotten whites” who were forced into competition for run down housing and low paid jobs with hoards of Asians and Afro-Caribbeans.
His speech is repeated over and over again while newsreel clippings show us first dockers and meat porters marching in Powell’s support, then the 1981 Brixton riots, and finally the wreckage of the London bus destroyed by the 7/7 bombers.
In Blakeway’s twisted logic, the establishment’s fear of the popular reaction to Powell’s speech led them to embrace the “doctrine of multiculturalism”.
This in turn led to a loss of national identity and the failure of immigrants – particularly Muslims – to integrate into society.
The documentary rests on the notion that Britain is irrevocably divided, and that some cultures are incapable of “Britishness”.
Yet every serious study shows that the working class has become more integrated in the 40 years since Powell’s speech. Blakeway scrupulously ignores this truth.
Rivers of Blood is followed by other films that are much more considered.
Marc Isaac’s All White in Barking looks at the changing ethnic make up this east London borough – in which the BNP won 12 council seats in 2006 – through the eyes of a variety of characters.
Issac introduces us to Jewish shop owner Monty, who lost his family in the Holocaust, and now has a relationship with Betty, who has recently arrived from Uganda.
Monty movingly describes the times he has been a victim of antisemitic violence, while Betty tends to him, prays with him and shares his jokes.
Meanwhile aging racist Dave spends his weekends helping run BNP stalls in Dagenham.
While there he bumps into his daughter, who is having a relationship with a mixed race man. Dave attempts to convince his Nazi friends that his daughter’s boyfriend has dark skin because “his family have spent a lot of time in Spain”.
The White Season also includes the excellent White Girl – a moving drama about a troubled white 11 year old who moves to a new school in Bradford and finds solace from her many problems among her Muslim neighbours.
Neither of these better programmes, however, can reverse the central message of the White Season, and in a way it seems that they have been lobbed in to create some impression of balance.
It is true that the white working class in Britain has been profoundly changed by mass immigration.
The music it listens to, the food it eats and its leisure pursuits have all been transformed in the last half-century. And there is a much wider range of ethnic groups making up the working class of today.
It is also true that there is precious little representation of working class life on our TV screens.
However, if the White Season is an attempt to address this, it is one that has disastrously failed.
The White Season begins with the documentary Last Orders on Friday, 9pm on BBC2 and continues into next week.