Colour-coded journalism

March 6, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Posted in British Politics, Working Class Britain | Leave a comment
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Park Hill Flats in Sheffield. Photo by Flickr user Stromberg, borrowed under Creative Commons license

Were this blog ever to be hijacked by a bawling, belching, right-wing bigot, today’s episode of ill-informed invective would be brought to you by the following:

Having been completely infested with Jews, queers, femiNazis and forced-marriage Islamists, the liberal elites at the BBC have decided to descend from their ivory towers to poke, prod and mock the indigenous English working class as if they were caged beasts, only to be viewed from afar. Meanwhile, the job-snatching, benefit-stealing incomers get their pillows fluffed every night with immigrant-pleasing programming like the ‘BBC Asian Network’

When commissioning a series about the white working class, the BBC must’ve known that however well the programmes were made, the exclusionary focus on whites would work the far-right into a furious lather. This isn’t a reason not to show the programmes, of course, merely to ensure that the programmes themselves, and all the accompanying articles, segments and discussion pieces surrounding it are sensible, serious and nuanced.

So I don’t think there could possible be a worse journalistic gimmick than deciding to visit the whitest place in England:

This is Easington in County Durham, racially the whitest place in England and Wales according to the only reliable measure we have, the 2001 Census. You may have seen it in the cinema: it was the set for Billy Elliot, the story of a miner’s lad who joins the Royal Ballet. But it’s also the local authority where you are most likely to meet someone who is white and least likely to meet someone who is from any other ethnic background.

Of course, four million Polish immigrants could fill the town tomorrow and Easington would still be the whitest place in England, so that really doesn’t mean much of anything, now, does it?

Where Easington colliery stood, there is now virtually nothing. Just the jet black monument to a disappeared past, made from the cages that once took thousands of men underground. Face east and there is the cold North Sea. Look west and there are the streets and streets of cramped Victorian colliery homes, the inspiration for many a Geordie folk song. But the streets are not as they once were.

“Aye lad, an dunt figet the brass bands n’ whippets, the cobbled roads n’ Hovis commercials. Eee, them were grand days me boy!”

Before I get to the main point, I should, in the interest of fairness, include some of the saner voices the article quotes. Here’s Tommy Smith, an aged ex-miner:

“When I left school in the 60s you could say, I’ll go to the steelworks, or I’ll go to the pit. I went to the pit because all my family were there. There was always something for you, but look around the corner now, there’s nothing, that’s why you have the kids on the streets drinking.”

Ann Cowley, who runs a community centre in a nearby village:

“I think living in a village like this you cannot get away from the roots. The pride is still very much there. The grandparents who worked in the coalfields instil that pride in the generations that are coming after them. I think the sense of community values is very strong, the sense of pride in the heritage that has been the coalfields.”

The problem with this article (even if you ignore the slightly skewiff ethics of scouring the country in search of ethnic purity) lies in the fact that the message of the season, as advertised by the BBC, is that the white English working class is impoverished, malnourished, embattled and ignored. By seeking out the Whitest Place On Earth, the implication behind this article is simple: the whiter you are, the more real your problems. Talk about balkinizing the working class.

Photo: Park Hill Flats in Sheffield. Taken by Flickr user Stromberg, borrowed under Creative Commons license.

Update: So inevitable you could time your watch to it: The BNP’s Nick Griffin is scheduled to appear on Newsnight this evening to discuss the issues surrounding the series.

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