Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Race and the Guardian

There were two strange articles in the Guardian on Monday - or rather one silly one and one sad one.

The silly one was by the playwright Mark Ravenhill. Here he is writing about the BBC drama series Life on Mars:
Isn't a great deal of the action created because the central character, a 1970s cop thrown into the modern world, needs to be educated out of his sexist, homophobic ways? The show is about the reform of the white, working-class male - still the most dangerous breed in the mind of the liberal urbanite. He probably loved Maggie. Could vote BNP. Almost certainly has a pitbull...
Enough already.

It is clear that Ravenhill has not watched much of the series, but was there no one at the Guardian to spot this mistake? Apparently not, which was a pity. Because the germ of Ravenhill's article is right: we should talk about racism rather than pretend it does not exist.

Not that this insight saves Ravenhill from a silly conclusion:
It is only through vibrant drama and comedy like this - and more of it, particularly in soapland - that we can prevent racism slipping into the cultural unconscious. If it does, it will destroy us.
I am afraid that we have been consciously racist for centuries and it has not destroyed us yet. It is hard to see why something more subtle should do so. This is the sort of conclusion that feels impressive when you write it but falls apart if anyone starts to analyse it.

The sad article was the paper's inadequate obituary of Charlie Williams. Here was a black man who was a professional footballer and a popular entertainer in an era when such achievements were almost unheard of. His life must be a fascinating story.

But almost half the piece was devoted to a criticising Williams and his times for not sharing our current views of what a black comedian should sound like. This was anachronistic and unfair.

Besides, judging by some of Williams' jokes which I have seen quoted elsewhere he was quite able to send up his white audience's views on race: "Shut up or I'll move in nextdoor to you;" "It was so sunny this morning I thought I'd been deported."

There is nothing like the subject of race to make a white liberals confused and embarrassed, but Monday's Guardian showed two ways not to approach it.