by Latoya Peterson
The BBC Two has unveiled a series of programming devoted to exploring the realities of being white and working class in Britain. White Season, as the lineup is called, seeks to tell the story of the white working class through documentaries, short films, and drama.
The introductory video to the series sets a confrontational tone. A white man is shown looking at the camera, staring straight ahead as people of varying tones and ethnicities scribble on his face with a black marker. In addition to writing characters of Asian and Arabic origins, the phrase “Britain is changing” is scrawled across his chin. Eventually, the man’s skin is covered in black and he closes his eyes, a question appears on the bottom of the screen: Is white working class Britain becoming invisible?
See for yourself – it is quite a striking visual:
Richard Klein, BBC’s Head Of Independent Commissioning For Knowledge, explains his views in the Daily Mail:
The voice of the white working-class is barely allowed to intrude into British politics or culture.
In metropolitan circles, where sneering at any minority ethnic group would be regarded as an outrage, this white working-class opinion is all too often treated with suspicion or contempt.
The word chav, for instance, is now often accepted as a way of marking the behaviour of the working class, even though any similarly abusive description of ethnic minorities would lead to police inquiries.
What is particularly bizarre about this approach is that, until recently, the white working class were seen as an integral and respected part of our national life.
Working-class heroes, like Michael Caine or George Best, were celebrated as national icons, their strong accents and easy self-confidence adored by the public.
Working-class life was realistically portrayed in novels, films and dramas. Working-class culture was the driving force in popular music, comedy and sport.
In politics as well, some might argue that the white working-class exerted an enormous influence, in a positive way through the expansion of welfare services to alleviate poverty and illhealth, and more negatively through the tribalism of the trade union movement that ultimately led to the disaster of the Winter of Discontent in 1979.
Yet there is something seriously wrong with a civic society which is reluctant to hear the views of a sizeable section of its population, especially one that has done so much for our country in the past and has felt the impact of social revolution perhaps more keenly than any other group.
That is why, as the BBC’s commissioner for documentaries, I was so determined to redress the balance by commissioning a new season of programmes looking at the attitudes of the white working class.
The very fact that such a move is treated as controversial is a measure of how far they have been marginalised. But I thought it was vital for the BBC to address their concerns, for two reasons.
First of all, the Corporation has a unique voice in Britain as the nation’s only public service broadcaster. We therefore have a duty to reflect the views of all sections of the public, and the BBC is the right place to have a debate about these issues.
After all, the white working class pay their licence fees like everybody else.
Second, I felt that ventilating their views produced fascinating material in itself, which deserved a wider audience.
Indymedia UK calls rubbish on the whole series, saying:
But there is something far more sinister about the season as revealed the programme and the Newsnight discussion on Thursday 5 February. The voice that the BBC is giving the white working class is one that belongs to the British National Party.
The first programme looked at a working men’s club in Wisbey, Bradford. A majority of the white participants criticised black people for being abandoned by Labour, for feeling betrayed, living in Bradford, taking over the city with 15% of its population and for violence that they predict. One young person almost relished the idea of a future racial clash – he had a Union Jack with a swastika painted on it.
But giving a voice to BNP supporters and sympathisers as if they represented the white working class was not accidental. Currently, the Wisbey ward was represented by Labour. In 2004, Wisbey elected a BNP councillor. Workingmen’s clubs are renown for its racism, so the BBC producers would know that they would have racist members. They could then claim that these clubs represent white working class people – even though the club they looked at has been in decline.
It seems that the BBC’s White season has been taken over by elite social manipulators. They are pushing the media into inventing stories that supports Samuel Huntingdon’s a clash of Western civilization with Islam thesis. The phoney war on terror, the attack on multiculturalism, the attack on ‘political correctness’ are being used to drag race equality back, as far as possible, into the 1970s.
Strangely enough, even the white people White Season claims to speak for aren’t really pleased by the programming. Rob Liddle, writing for the conservative Spectator rails into the series as well. Considering this is a person who stated that multiculturalism is “[a] damaging and now rejected creed,” I was a little surprised to read that he believes the series is patronizing. He writes:
I hope you are enjoying ‘White Season’ on the BBC — a brave and groundbreaking attempt by the corporation to devote 0.003 per cent of its airtime to issues which bother 92 per cent of its licence payers. One of the senior commissioning monkeys at the BBC, Richard Klein, admitted that white people — some of whom he has met — have been underserved by the corporation, and especially ‘working-class’ white people. Mind you, it is surely difficult to serve such a hidden and secretive tranche of the population, especially when they live beneath stones and only venture out to get drunk and shout ‘darkie!’ at passers-by. But at least the BBC has tried to understand these awful people and shown them where they are going wrong.
It is hardly seeing the world from a white working-class perspective, is it? It is instead seeing the world from the perspective of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) — which is not to say that it is wrong, per se, merely that it would serve to annoy still further those white working-class people who feel the BBC could not give a toss one way or another about their grievances.
There was another film, too, about white working-class people in Barking and how, basically, it’s a generational thing — with the young whites mixing happily with young people of every colour of the rainbow and only the thick-as-mince, time-warped, older generation cleaving to either racist or embittered points of view about immigration. Is that an accurate reflection of how it is?
It seems to me that in both cases it is how the BBC fervently wishes it to be; it is the point of view of the educated, middle-class, metropolitan white liberal elite — the very people who, as it happened, foisted the damaging and now rejected creed of multiculturalism upon the rest of us. If the MCB had been handed the task of devising a series of programmes to highlight the problems of the white working classes in Britain, it would undoubtedly have shown a greater awareness and sensitivity than did the BBC.
From where I sit – in America, mind you – I would be absolutely fascinated to get my hands on a copy of White Season to review and dissect the messages. Especially since the idea of white invisibility and a marginalized white working class have emerged as dominant themes in our national election (and hence, in the realm of the national conversation). With the current political climate as it is, I would not be surprised to see our own White Season hit American airwaves sometime soon.
(Thanks to reader Yemisi Blake for sending this in!)
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
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