Is Britain Racist? A documentary review

Is Britain Racist?
Aired on BBC Three, 5 Oct 2015
Presenter: Mona Chalabi
Producer: Tom Pearson
Director: Tom Pearson
Executive Producer: Mike Radford

The way the documentary is presented by a data analyst gives a very interesting perspective on how different what the data on people’s racial prejudice says and what the actuality of people’s racial prejudice is. If a government survey says most people think they aren’t racist, then the government may not think racism is a problem, however if the government is presented with how many race related hate crimes are committed every year, they may have a different perspective on racism in Britain.

The documentary began with an EDL demonstration where the presenter asked many of the members there if they were racist. I have always believed the EDL to be a stigma based extreme hate group so it was surprising to me that many of the people participating in the demonstration were adamant that they held no racist views. Although Islamaphobia and Racism are different types of discrimination they often collide with stereotyping of people who are Muslim which is where the line begins to blur.

The abuse that the presenter got was absolutely shocking and made the opening minutes of the documentary exceedingly uncomfortable to watch. After bouts of both personal and general verbal abuse, members of the demonstration began to get physically violent and the production team decided to leave.

The documentary reported that last year there were 39,000 race or religion related hate crimes committed, they then go on to say, however that was spread across 64 million people. Personally, I think that despite Britain having a larger number of residents than people who are victims of race or religion related hate crimes, 39,000 a year is a number that is far too high and something needs to be done to address this number and configure solutions to lowering that number this year.

Following this, the documentary focused on 3 people going undercover to record their experience of racial and anti-religious abuse for a day.

First was a girl who went to Dudley. She said that she was surprised that she didn’t get any verbal abuse as that was what she had been expecting. For the second half of the day, she wore the niqab which covered her face and every 10-15 minutes she would get verbal abuse and in between verbal attacks, everyone would stare at her as if she were some kind of oddity.

It was then stated “An anti-hate crime group found that 60% of attacks against Muslims are perpetrated against women.” This is a statistic that flies under the radar when the discussion of feminism in Islam comes up. People are determined to ‘protect women in Islam and give them freedom of choice’ but are not helping to defend them when hate crimes are being perpetrated against them for the choices they make. Many of these hate crimes are physical violence against women that in the most extreme cases can result in death. This is a serious problem that we should be working to find a solution for to protect the lives and rights of these people.

The second person spent their day in Somerset where anti-racist groups have reported some issues. They said that they found Somerset a very inclusive place, many people acknowledged him and said “hello” and some people at the pub asked him to join them. He got the odd stare, but nothing that made him feel uncomfortable. His mainly positive experience is a hopeful one and a way of proving that while there are racist extremists in Britain, not everyone in Britain is racist.

The final person was a Jewish man who spent his day in Bradford. For the most part he had positive experiences, however a few people swore at him through car windows as he was walking past. I was surprised that some people had such adverse reactions to a man wearing a kippa because for me I’ve personally never taken note. I smile and nod at people in the street without stopping to think about what their religious alignment is.

This man makes a very good point however, that I think the documentary up to this point had forgotten to mention. He says “I need to be careful not to draw huge generalisations into what was clearly one day, in one city, in one particular year, but nevertheless it happened, and I can’t pretend it didn’t”. This rings very true and without reminding people of this point, people could easily take the bigoted and discriminatory views presented in this documentary as the opinions of all whereas that is not the case.

Many people say that they would not report a racist or anti-religious hate crime to the police. I have often seen LGBT+ people say the same. This could be a mistrust that the police will carry out justice for the victim of the hate crime, fear that it would create further hate and animosity towards them, or many other reasons. A huge percentage of hate crimes of any type go unreported so any statistics showing how many hate crimes have been committed in recent years cannot wholly represent the actual amount of hate crimes committed.

These same three people went undercover in a short experiment to see who could hand out 12 free doughnuts to the public the fastest. It took the girl 6 minutes 23 seconds longer to give out all of her doughnuts when she was wearing her niqab. Some people also made remarks like ‘Are you kidding?’ and ‘Scum’ to her when she was wearing her niqab. It’s incredible how much reliance people put on clothing to form and opinion of a stranger and how because this girl had her face covered, it suddenly made it okay in their minds to give her verbal abuse. This prejudice confuses me so much, I don’t understand it.

A large part of this is what is known as hidden or invisible prejudice which is the subconscious or barely concious assumptions we make about people and is completely made up of mass generalisations and stereotypes. These hidden prejudices can be just as damaging as the verbal and physical hate crimes committed as they affect the livelihood and personal, social and mental security of people in their day to day lives.

The presenter took part in an MRI test to see what her brain’s reaction to seeing black and white faces were. The results for white faces showed no change, however the results for black faces showed that the part that shows fear was active but the part that controls automatic fear response was more active, meaning Mona was fighting the learned prejudices her brain had because of the society she was raised in to make her less racist. I would be very interested to see what my brain would look like if I took this test because I think it would look quite similar, but I can’t be sure without taking the test.

The footage cut to looking at the leader of minor political party Liberty GB who think that multiculturalism in Britain is something that needs to be eliminated. The majority of the things he is saying about deporting people who ‘aren’t useful’, I find disgusting. How people think they have a right to determine people’s ‘usefulness’ is beyond me. He also says “Don’t bring the female genital mutilation, don’t bring the fascist ideas” which are both horrendously sweeping generalisations about Islam which isn’t true for a large percentage of Muslims and I find it a very ignorant statement to make.

He does, however, make a point about how what he has to say could, under proposed new laws, cause serious consequences such as job loss, fines or jail time and how he has a right to speak out. And while I agreed that he has a right to speak out on issues he disagrees with, many of his views affect several of the human rights of the people he is talking about. To be more specific, he is denying people several articles of the human rights act which we recognize as law in the EU and by denying them the previous, also article 30, no one has the right to take your human rights from you.

This man continues to argue with the presenter that she isn’t as ‘British’ as him because she isn’t of ‘Western European ethnicity’. The presenter is completely dumbstruck and doesn’t understand why this man sees her ethnicity as such a big deal and I wholeheartedly agree with her. This man’s ignorant, discriminatory ideas should not affect he ability to live happily in the country that she chooses to live in.

They concluded with Mona talking about ways to unlearn our prejudices which I think is so important. If we can unlearn our prejudices then we can work together to help others do the same and create a more tolerant and welcoming society for everyone to live in in Britain.

This documentary has been an interesting look into whether Britain as a whole is racist. I think a large part of the documentary focused on the south which doesn’t reflect the views of everywhere in Britain. I think it gave a mostly balanced perspective on people’s opinions with a slight emphasis towards Britain being more racist than they realise. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing though because many people who aren’t affected by racism and religious discrimination don’t even realise what a serious issue it is in Britain.

I think if more awareness was raised towards these issues and people were inspired to action to help lower the amount of racism here, we could create a more just, peaceful and equal society for everyone.


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