allwhiteinbarking4.jpgBBC2 described the last programme in its White series ‘All White in Barking’ as:

“Filmmaker Marc Isaacs’ funny and illuminating documentary gives a voice to people who feel that they are at the sharp end of multicultural Britain. Take a trip to the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, an area which has some of the highest levels of immigration in the country and where residents are struggling to come to terms with their new arrivals…

…In this Storyville, Isaacs’ gentle probing of these very different characters helps to paint a vivid picture of the attitudes and preconceptions at the heart of Modern Britain.”

Whilst relatively supportive of the series, ‘All White in Barking’ (playing with the popular catchphrase of Michael Barrymore) was in many ways a far more unpleasant offering than what had gone before. Whilst it is obvious in today’s Britain that some individuals and communities have negative views both about other communities and also about immigration and its effects, ‘All White in Barking’ did little more than suggest that all of the white working classes were ignorant about other people and communities, and that few (any?) were anything less than racist. This is not to suggest that those “at the sharp end of multicultural Britain” don’t or can’t have such views, but merely to suggest that the BBC did little to highlight that any alternative perspectives or views existed: the white working classes are racist and that – in the representation of the documentary makers – is that.

Particularly uncomfortable viewing was the questioning of the Holocaust survivor about his friendship with a Ugandan  (see comment below, unfortunately I wasn’t able to remember the woman’s nationality but have amended accordingly) woman – seemingly inferring that she was ‘using’ him in some way – and the questioning of the Albanian about whether he would want his son to marry a Serb – knowing that he would be uncomfortable with this – having already asked him about marrying a ‘British’ girl. It seemed, whether rightly or wrongly, that Marc Isaacs was trying to justify the xenophobia of the white working class subjects he had obviously hand-picked by suggesting, ‘they’re just as xenophobic as we are’. Does this justify anything though? Definitely not.

Equally uncomfortable was the conversations between the BNP supporter and his daughters, one who had a son that was fathered by an African man and another who had a mixed heritage boyfriend. Employing such justifications as preferring to be with “our own” (whites), the worst moment was when the film crew obviously arranged for the younger daughter and her mixed heritage boyfriend to visit her dad whilst he was at a BNP campaign stall in Barking. Was this necessary? No. Did it add anything to the overall value of the documentary? Again, unfortunately, the answer is no. Did the documentary makers deliberately use the seemingly unwitting boyfriend to make hinm feel uncomfortable? Yes.

The white working classes were, for them at least, at the sharp end of today’s multicultural Britain, isolated, overlooked, and being left to slowly deteriorate and die. One particularly harrowing shot was of a group of ‘unusual’ looking and largely elderly white people in Barking town centre. Filming them staring blankly and somewhat gormlessly into nothing, the image was reminiscent of either a zombie movie or more worryingly, of survivors of the Holocaust. Either way, the white working classes – from the representations shown here at least – were that they were merely dead men walking.

The message from the documentary? Move to Canvey Island in Essex, a metaphor for a white safe haven that the white working classes desperately need. As the BNP supporter put it himself having moved to Canvey, it’s preferred if we’re with “our own”.

‘All White in Barking’ therefore was an nasty and underhanded piece of documentary making that ended what has been, and indeed may even more so in the future, be seen to be a highly controversial series for the BBC. What impact this has in Barking & Dagenham remains to be seen, but given that the London borough is already the first ever place in the UK to have a far-right political party (the BNP) as the official party of opposition, it doesn’t seem unlikely that the BNP in the coming local council elections won’t use the film to say to prospective voters, ‘we told you so’.


3 thoughts on “white: all white in barking (BBC2 series)

  1. I live in South-East London in a very multicultural area, and sadly, while some of the white working class or fine, it is amazing the number of those still living and working in the area who are pure and simple racists. Even though often making their money from (and even having relationships with) people of other cultures, their baseline attitude seems to be one of hostility to those who look or behave even slightly differently to them.

    I agree, Mark Isaacs’ documentary is not at all gentle, and could well be said to be nasty. But it is never pleasant to see certain attitudes openly displayed.

    Nor were the representatives of the white working class shown in a worse light than they actually are. Many are better, and some are unutterably worse. Significant points that weren’t made include the weakness of the anti-immigrant argument when examined closely, and the fact that much of the hostility to immigrants is actually displaced hostility to past government policy – an area in which they feel truy powerless. Result: scapegoating immigrants. Also rather important, in no area of England are the white English ‘driven out’ or ‘wiped out’, in every case they leave of their own accord. Often they go to Spain and promptly become immigrants who don’t integrate and refuse to learn the local language. Rather as the English abroad did in the time of Empire, in fact.

    There is a considerable element of free will in the gulfs between the races. If I know that Iranians are not Arabs, and Bangladeshis not Indians, how is it that very few white English Londoners appear to know this? I suggest this is because they don’t want to know. Isaac’s showed, however clumsily, the efforts that some can make to be welcoming and try to get to know their neighbours.

    I agree that Isaacs’ inferring xenophobia on the part of immigrants is no justification for xenophobia on the part of the white working classes, more so because (despite widespread statements to the contrary), the white working classes have never been victimised, marginalised, or otherwise disadvantaged. Claims of ‘They take all our jobs’ and ‘They get all the housing’ have to be backed up with logic and fact. In short, the WWC should not fight a race war just because they can’t fight a class war. For one thing, their attitudes tend to be crass in way that the better-educated middle-classes (who don’t generally live amongst us anyway) are too articulate to be. As proof, see the public comments on the BBC’s ‘White in Barking’ page. I can predict there will be much poorly thought-out racism on display: ‘They take our jobs and depend too much on our benefits’ etc. Perhaps the WWC should also take on capitalism, which has traditionally been more of an enemy to many of them than any immigrant.

    Where the program fell down most was in the examination of the WWC’s more justified complaints. Lack of government funding for areas with services under strain from immigrants etc. One could then say… ‘All those black areas – they get more money!’ This would have been a better use of the running time than showing us shameful and illogical attitudes, and showing us that most racists don’t realise or are in strict denial.

    Finally, it is a typical attitude to refer to the holocaust survivor’s friend as ‘an African woman’ – it is stated quite clearly that she is Ugandan. It’s OK though, we’re used to Africa being referred to as if it were a country, not a continent.

    Cool blog. I like that I don’t agree with a lot of what you say!

  2. Apologies about the Ugandan woman. I had to put African because I forgot to note down her nationality – sorry. I have amended it now though.

    Thanks for your comments however – really appreciated and well informed.


  3. What it shows of course is that the real economic struggles of the working class against capitalist market inequalities is often overshadowed or skewed by more immediate social cultural factors, notably that of race. The disenfranchsied white working class in the early programme in Bradford clearly are victims of globalisation, market and class inequality, however they are also victims of competitive immigration, so its a quadruple whammy.

    Whites in the barking programme however, are not so much economic victims but feel that their culture and race in underminned by immigration in the area. They would probably see themselves as victims of a cultural and racial genocide, but of course as the previous comment pointed out, they chose to leave the area, i.e the well publicised “white flight.” Why? the reasons given in the programmes were usually immigrants alien culture, ie. dress, accents, food, smells, noise, language, that the immigrants made no effort to integrate or turn native, so it shows the WWC do not want multi-culturalism, they want immigrants to turn native instead, but of course this is a red herring. I myself am as a second generation immigrant and I still struggle to socialise with indigenous whites even though I have to a large extent turned native in many aspects, i have an english middle class accent, i sometimes eat english food, i dress western, i have dated an english girl, however…I still feel I have very little in common with other members of WWC or WMC. In fact, I only have one female friend that is a member of the indigenous white population (by indigenious i mean at least 75% white british ethnicity). I have to conclude that its because of my ethnicity and will never be considered English or “one of us.” Middle class whites are generally just as intolerant as WWC of immigrants, but of course they are less vocal, they don’t need to be vocal since most of them do not socialise with immigrants in the first place. The WWC are much cruder and are willing to speak their minds…at times, although usually only under the influence of alcohol when they have lost their inhibitions and say what they’re too afraid to say when sober.

    AS a marxist also, I feel that the marxist parties/org of the far left in the UK are totally dominated by whites and a few muslims, very few of the other ethnic groups support these left organisations. I find it difficult to identify with them also even though politically we are singular. All in all, i think it shows that the British working class is not a coherent economic political force, the reason why marxism will never happen in this country is precisely because of these divisions within the working class.

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