Socialist Worker

Make Bradford British: Eight lives and the myth of Britishness

Anindya Bhattacharyya takes a critical look at Channel 4’s latest TV social experiment

Issue No. 2292

“Multicultural Britain needs help. Some people just aren’t mixing. Our communities are becoming increasingly divided. And nowhere is the problem clearer than in Bradford.”

These are the opening words of Make Bradford British, Channel 4’s latest attempt to blend social documentary with Big Brother-style reality programming.

It is also an intervention into a wider debate about multiculturalism.

It comes down uncritically on the side of those who say multiculturalism is failing and society needs a healthy dose of “Britishness” to stop the rot.

Two insufferably smug middle class “experts”, Laurie Trott and Taiba Yasseen, are wheeled on to hammer this message home.

They tell us to get in touch with our inner Britishness and find “not just a common set of values, but also an identity”. This righteous path will apparently lead us to a promised land of “harmonious communities”.

To that end the programme picks out a panel of eight Bradfordians of various colours, classes and creeds. They are moved into a communal house for a few days to create a “multicultural society in microcosm”.

Facts

At no point does the programme give any facts or figures to support its lurid claims. That’s not surprising— because the facts and figures point in the opposite direction.

The statistical evidence shows that the different ethnicities and cultures in our society are getting more integrated, not less. One sign of this is the steadily growing number of children of “mixed or multiple heritage”.

This isn’t the programme’s only omission. It starts off with some obnoxious footage of white people in a pub braying about “pakis”.

But you have to wait till two thirds of the way through before anyone mentions the word “racism”.

Anyone who’s looked at government policy on these questions will spot a familiar pattern here.

The ideas that multiculturalism is in crisis and that British identity can act as a unifying glue have been relentlessly promoted in government circles—under both Labour and the Tories—for over a decade.

This goes hand in hand with avoiding tough questions about racism by way of loopy mush about “cultural cohesion”. Why bother tackling institutional racism in society when you can just blame ethnic minorities for “failing to integrate”?

Yet for all the ideological rubbish, what Make Bradford British actually shows points in a very different direction.

The first episode starts by focusing on Rashid, a devout Muslim and former rugby league player.

The documentary shamelessly tries to stereotype him as an extremist. At one point we see him enter a cafe with “9-11” emblazoned on the canopy.

But Rashid is too likeable for this to work. His “failure to integrate” amounts to little more than him insisting on visiting the mosque in order to pray.

Another incident is more revealing. Jens, a retired policeman, gets slightly too drunk and reveals how he’d use routinely terms like “paki-bashing” and “black bastard” as a joke.

This was OK because he used the terms in an affectionate way, he insisted. Any racist connotation would be “the total opposite of what I meant”.

Abuse

Nobody in the house really buys this explanation. It prompts some of the Asians to recount exactly how the word “paki” is routinely used to abuse them and their families, sometimes violently.

The effect of this is dramatic. Audrey is a mixed-race pub landlady who previously defended racist attitudes and language towards Asians.

Now she suddenly connects with her own experience of being on the receiving end of racism.

Audrey admits that in the past she has used the word “paki”, something she now bitterly regrets. She has nephews and nieces who are Asian. “If they heard me say that, if they knew that even their aunt calls them that…”

Laurie and Taiba are oblivious to this. All they see is a success for their little experiment. “All it took was living together!” they gush.

But what the experiment shows is the opposite of what the documentary makers try to claim.

Bradford—and everywhere else for that matter—is a good deal more mixed than anyone is willing to credit. “Britishness” is useless as a source of “values” or “common identity”.

The real enemy here is racism. And it is brought down, not by fancy notions of inclusion, but by ordinary people speaking out against it.

Those people display a good deal more insight into the world than the middle class do-gooders sent in to “fix” them. And for all its numerous failings, Make Bradford British can’t hide that.

Make Bradford British starts on Thursday at 9pm on Channel 4. The concluding part will be shown at the same time next week


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Thu 1 Mar 2012, 22:02 GMT
Issue No. 2292
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