Make Bradford British: Entertainment, Not Exposition

By Guest Contributor Nabeelah, cross-posted from Kabobfest

Courtesy of SourceTV

“Have you ever tried a miniskirt?”, a pub regular asks the hijab-clad server who has spent the day serving soft drinks behind the bar. When she protests that she doesn’t want to, he assures her she would “look bloody lovely in a miniskirt,” giving her knee a stroke to make his point.

The regulars take the two slightly contradictory views that Asians should conform to British “ways,” whilst defending Britain’s superiority over the East as a tolerant and free society.

“When Asians come over here”, the knee-stroker argues, “do we say, ‘get it off kid, get a miniskirt on, get your tits out’? No. But when you go to an Asian country, women are told: ‘cover up’.”  Another states: “When I go to Pakistan…I dress like they dress, out of respect. So at the end o’t’day, show some respect here.”

The scene is from Make Bradford British, a two-part documentary on race in Britain in which one phrase, repeated in various forms, seems to sum up the real source of resentment. “They use their color to get what they want …” The show does not delve into this line of thought, which might raise questions about council housing queues or benefits. Nor does it look very deeply at old fashioned Jens’ defense of his racial humor as “just a joke,” propping up that all-purpose shield for offensiveness: “banter.” The introduction sets out the premise that mutual tolerance and understanding is really entirely about getting to know and respect each other better as individuals, moving away from the big political ideas and solutions which have apparently failed. Taiba Yasseen and Laurie Trott, the two “diversity and community experts” managing the project ask, “can people of different races, different religions, really live together, and define what it means to be British?”

‘Yes’, or ‘it depends on the people’, apparently do not suffice as answers. Fear not though, these can be uncovered by putting together a group of people of different backgrounds, cultures and convictions, in a city infamous for its race riots, and filming the ensuing chaos. Racio-cultural Wife Swap, if you like.

The two “experts” overlook the fact that the idea of localized “interculturalism” began in academic and political circles, with the promotion of individual and group exposure to other individuals and groups taking root in countries including Canada, Spain, and Britain. Whilst it’s easy to see how the method could yield great results if gradually applied to communities truly and entirely “ghetto-ized” by culture or race, it is difficult not to think of the flurry of news reports earlier this year which connected immigration with unemployment, pointing to the intersection of social and economic problems within the identity debate.

The program appropriates interculturalism as a hook and is forced to flatten out the identities of the eight complex and rounded individuals into racial and religious differences in order to create a decent dramatic story. The eight chosen inhabitants represent one of the range of stereotypes that dominate the race discourse–from the bearded devotee Rashid to the retired racist middle Englander Jens, the Muslim woman Sabbiya, and the young skinhead Damon.

The “documentary” steers us through a heavy-handed narrative of drama and conflict over the house budget, meal-times,  and bedrooms, before commonality and understanding begin to dawn. An example is Rashid’s desire to pray at the mosque in congregation, which conflicts with the group’s timetable, until he agrees to compromise and pray individually whilst remaining with the group; a sight which moves feminist Mara to tears.

The two-part program contains many such moments which seem genuine and uncontrived. But the focus on emotional drama means that any attempts to subvert stereotypes are clumsy and obvious, from Rashid’s rugby-playing background to mixed-race Audrey’s dislike of Asians. Most reaction to the program has come from Bradfordians angry at the patronizing way in which the city is approached, with a weighted focus on its racial problems.

In failing to consider the ways in which the city’s lack of regeneration and enduring poverty, painted in the contrast between Desmond’s council estate and Jens’ country village, might be interacting with racial and cultural divisions, Make Bradford British revealed itself as entertainment rather than exposition. The opportunity to weave a more nuanced understanding of the layers of identity which make up the eight participants as individuals rather than members of a racial community, and which make up Bradford itself, went untapped.

Nabeelah is a recent graduate and long-time ranter from London’s East African Asian community. She spends most of her time offering to do things for money. Not the things you’re thinking of. Follow her blog at and on Twitter @nabeelahj.


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  • Super Amanda

    Great piece about a luke warm show.  I’m an American now living in the East End of London, I found this anti-Black article by an Asian writer in the UK ties in with this topic :

    Punjabi man wags his fingers at Blacks and becomes White.  He clearly
    wants to align his beliefs with racist whites by using the Thusha Kamaleswaran tragedy
    as the conservation opener which is sick. He’s of course correct that
    there is no mass movement coming from UK Blacks about this crime or
    crimes in their areas in general and that is troublesome but there also is
    not one for Asians as well and crime is just as bad on that side. Yet he
    mentions the riots conveniently leaving out that many Asians were
    looting and committing acts of violence. As for White British relations to immigration, no one cares about poor working class white people in the UK ESPECIALLY 
    middle class and ruling class white people (middle class in the UK is
    FAR wealthier than the middle class in the US thus the gap is huge in
    income, education etc) . Poor whites absorb the immigration, they watch
    their neighbourhoods change in a generation, they watch other whites
    like Poles and Ukrainians come in and get much of the prime
    construction, restaurant and retail jobs while still fully retaining
    their culture, Romani people have a huge celebrity and human rights
    activists backing  and then Cockneys are called simply “racist Chavs who
    speak Estuary English”.   Heartbreaking and paradoxically why the BNP
    can’t catch on here.  Working class people of all races are largely on
    the same page and we have friends of both Black and Asian descent. Class
    overrides race here. All are from families who assimilated and assimilation largely stopped
    being required after Enoch’s Powell’s speech out of fear that England
    would “look racist” or seem “backward”. Thanks for nothing Enoch. Roger
    Daltrey recently made much more sense (and he actually grew up working
    class and came from being a sheet metal worker/lower class unlike
    Enoch).  No rivers of blood for Rog, he just wants things to be fair
    here-we ALL do. Separate societies can’t live side by side.

  • Anonymous

    I feel like I’m missing context here- so this is a TV show where these Bradford inhabitants meet? And live together?

  • Anonymous

    I turned this off after 10 minutes. This was nothing more than the standard channel 4, Big Brother come Wife Swap style of reality show with race as the main theme so they can tick that box.

  • Asian Dharma

    The problem I have with the picture is that no Desi Hindus or Sikhs are represented.  Over the years I’ve seen a progression of “Asian” in the UK go from being represented by South Asian Sikhs and Hindus as well as Muslims to now the Muslim Desi being the representative “face” and “voice” of Asians in the UK.  

    • Super Amanda

       Great point.

  • Anonymous

    “When I go to Pakistan…I dress like they dress, out of respect. So at the end o’t’day, show some respect here.”

    Oh, that is just disgusting. How clueless do you have to be not to understand the intense irony of asking someone to show respect by completely ignoring their autonomy and asking them to dress a certain way for your own enjoyment?

    • Super Amanda

      I’ve lived in the UK for over six years and have been coming here almost yearly  since 97. That’s a cheap shot by the TV people to get a reaction by making white Britsh people look like BNP members.