Friday, 7 March 2008

Zhang Huan and the BBC White Season

The BBC starts its peculiar White Season tonight - the basic premise is that the white working class in the UK is becoming invisible. Which it's not.

Marginalised, yes, but invisible, no - and that's the working class in general, not just the white working class.

Interestingly, the BBC has decided to couch the series in racial terms (it includes a documentary on Enoch Powell, whose Rivers of Blood prophecies have proved hopelessly wrong) - though it would be more appropriate to look at the political and economic policies that have resulted in deteriorating education, health and housing for the British working class.

The death of British manufacturing industy and the transformation of the Labour Party from an organisation with ties to unions and labour to something quite different also have something to do with this marginalisation as do numerous other factors - falling numbers of working class students getting entrance to universities, widening wealth and health gaps and - oh, I could just go on and on...

The BBC have decided to advertise their season with this clip here which bears a remarkable resemblance to Zhang Huan's Family Tree pictures. The difference is that in his sophisticated work, Zhang covered his face with calligraphy that related to the complex ties of history, family and society - rather than the BBC man's unconvincing messages of "Britain is changing" and "I love Britain".


Anonymous said...

If I lived in secluded artsy bubble in Bath, i'd probably come to the same conclusion that Enoch's Rivers Of Blood prophesizing had proved inaccurate. However, I live in Bethnal Green and my wife was two carriages behind the explosion on the train at King's Cross, and I was caught up in the chaos of the failed 21 July attemps. From my more accurate (dis)advantaged point of view - Enoch had Nostradamus like seermanship.

colin pantall said...

You're right that Bath is a bubble. But I think the London bombings have more to do with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the government's strangely conflicting engagement with the Saudi regime and resulting Saudi influence on Islamic thought in both the UK and across the Islamic world.

Anyway, with the best will in the world, the London bombings (or even the current spate of gun crime) do not amount to Rivers of Blood - much less so than the IRA bombings, which were affected Britain in a more widespread manner.

I don't know much about Bethnal Green except the Krays come from there, but I'm sure Bethnal Green is a flipside to Bath. It's also exceptional in its own right and a bubble of its own, albeit a London bubble. Anyway, if you look at Bethnal Green's history, then the migration patterns you've had there for the last 30 years are nothing unusual if you compare them to the last century (when 80 % of Brick Lane were Jews fleeing Eastern European pogroms).

colin pantall said...

It's a notch up from wikipedia anyway and there is loads of interesting material here, including a short history of Building and Social Conditions in Bethnal Green.

riki said...

interesting post for one in the US seeing the battle over Mexican immigration repeat all those before it along w/ the business class attempts to pulverize the unions. How easily we forget history. Would have loved to have seen more.

Salvo said...

Well, although this is an old post by now, this is still a somewhat interesting topic and not really one that fades with time.
You live in Bath - I study here at Bath University and, as expressed in the first comment, it would be very easy to comment that Britain has reached an enlightened state of being if you lived here. Probably the safest, most polite and adjusted town for its size anywhere in the world. Ridiculously so, even.

I grew up, however, in Slough, which is essentially divided and balkanized along ethnic lines. About half of the population are South Asian or Black and the other half are white. Of course, whilst there was not exactly open and virulent hatred, we certainly 'stuck to our own'. Indeed, as the son of Italian immigrants, my friends were almost entirely also Southern European/Catholic.
It's hard to say whether this mentality occurred as a result of our surroundings or a natural tendency to form groups with similar individuals in the face of vast levels of diversity. Either way, the bottom line is that I (and lots of other kids I'm sure) grew up in a small world in which you wouldn't let someone 'brown' within 100m of your sister and so on.

My point is only to make observations; personally, I think that we will laugh at how much time and energy we invested into ideas of race and I yearn for a better future in that respect. In the meantime though, don't apply the norms of Bath to the rest of this nation. Ignoring the swirling undertones of racial tension in society is always dangerous, I believe. The more that we brush it aside and proclaim loudly that we are an adjusted society, the more resentment that people may eventually have for this undoubtedly false representation of their country and its state of affairs.

colin pantall said...

Sorry,Salvo, but I can't read where anyone applies the norms of Bath to the rest of Britain or where anyone brushes aside racial tensions (of which there are many). Occasional violence, horrific exploitation on many levels by many different groups of people, yes. But the Rivers of Blood - where are they? I can't see them. Truth is, the IRA were always a much bigger threat and caused much greater injury and loss of life than anything that came after.

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