I’ve been recently following the White Season on the BBC, designed to examine the white working class Britain. There has been much criticism of the program content on the White Season, especially from Sarah Mukherjee, environment correspondent for the beeb, who is herself British-Asian and grew up in a all white council estate. Mukherjee stated in Ariel, the in-house magazine of the beeb, that “…listening to the patronising conversations in some newsrooms you’d think white, working-class Britain is one step away from anarchy, drinking themselves senseless and pausing only to draw benefits and beat up a few Asian and black people.”
Sunny Hundal wrote in the Guardian, Comments is Free (CiF) and takes issue with the fact that the term “working class” is not only a white matter, but that the series woefully neglects Asian and Black working class groups. Hundal also mentions that:
“The White season is a tokenistic effort after which the middle class commissioners, pleased that they’ve done their bit for the proles, will go back to their usual habits, as they do with ethnic minorities. Except, there the lives of working class minorities are ignored while shiny happy middle class Asians making music or becoming successful entrepreneurs are lapped up.
But even worse is the patronising attitude that underlies it all. Here, I can’t really do better than quote Justin McKeating: “Going by the website, the season reduces working class people to exhibits in a zoo, to reality television show freaks, to anthropological curiosities in National Geographic. Here’s some knobbly-faced salts of the earth in a Bradford working men’s club. Here’s every little-brained, little Englanders’ worst nightmare, a white girl in a hijab.” It’s spot on.”
I have to agree that the White Season on the beeb has done little to represent the complete working class environment in today’s Britain. Which brings me to White Girl (you only have 5 days to view on on iPlayer), a drama written by Abi Morgan in which Leah, an 11 year old white working class girl relocates to a Muslim neighborhood in Bradford. Leah’s parents are both portrayed in the drama in the stereotypical view associated with the white working class chav— as being “brutish, racist, alcoholic, and benefit scum.” Well, Morgan didn’t veer too off from the present, equally racist view of the white, working class. Because Leah’s parents are so dysfunction in every sense of the word, she becomes interested in Islam. And, you might ask, how is Islam viewed in White Girl? Muslims are portrayed in the other stereotypical image: as being peaceful and benevolent. In fact, it seems that the drama is expressly stating that for the white working class to achieve success it needs to become Muslim. The one dimensional image of both white working class and Muslims in Bradford does an incredible disservice to both groups.
I had a difficult and uncomfortable time watching the rest of White Girl, because it presented a cookie-cutter view to very complex socio-economic issues with the white and working class in Britain. Furthermore, the simplistic notions that Islam will save the day and help rehabilitate the white working class is just patronising smugness on the part of the middle class beeb commissioners. I’m a Muslim and I found it distasteful that Islam was being elevated and being placed on a pedestal (no religion or cultural tradition should be priviledged as the better path over another)- and that specifically divorce the “Muslim” way was presented in such an easy manner, almost like snapping your fingers and va la, it is done! If this is truly the case, then most Muslim women wouldn’t find divorce such a hellish experience. This romananticized version of Islam shown in White Girl versus the often violent and criminal version protrayed on t.v. and film again only confines Muslims to the stereotypical views often presented today. Yes, Ms. Morgan– Muslims can be racist too, just like Jewish people can be racist, Sikh, etc.– working class white people aren’t the only racists in the world.
To conclude, the White Season has little to do with exploring the dimensions of being white and/or working class. The BBC has again perpetuated the common stereotypes regarding class, race, and religion. The neighborhood that I live in is working class and very mixed in terms of race and religion. From my perspective working class people whether White, Asian, or Black get along and are far more diversified than those in the middle class- and despite being from the U.S., I have noticed that middle class folks can be highly racist, abet in a indirect manner. The White Season shows us more about bigotry and class bullying in the beeb than about the current state of the white and/or working class in Britain.