“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’.