BBC Radio 4’s anti-Brexit campaign continues apace. This week we heard the first episode of a series of documentaries entitled Eastern Europeans in Brexitland, presented by Guardian journalist Gary Younge. Younge abnegated himself of the usual BBC responsibilities (pretences) to impartiality (i.e. the insertion of five seconds of interview footage with a UKIP supporter) by explicitly stating that the programme would focus entirely upon the feelings of Eastern Europeans. The result: if Lucifer himself had molested all the angels in heaven, it wouldn’t have evinced such an appalled tone. A half-hour devoted to the monstrous effects of Brexit with not one single countervailing voice. Could we ever imagine pro-Brexit voices being given such an expanse of challenge-free BBC airtime?
The programme kicked off with one Eastern European man from Bristol describing the morning after the Brexit vote. Initially too scared to even leave his house, he had eventually plucked up the courage to walk to his local Polish shop. The staff behind the counter there had told him that some of their customers had reported experiencing racist abuse. That’s right – the programme’s headline evidence of racist Armageddon consisted of a report of a report of a report.
Statistics and indirect anecdotal evidence were provided by the programme-makers as proof of Britain’s race hate meltdown, and yet at no point were any victims of this tidal wave of snarling hatred presented. As Younge himself admitted at the end of the show, “Everyone we spoke to in Bristol knew someone who’d been through it [racist assault/abuse], sometimes even a family member, but actual victims proved elusive”. So, every single person is surrounded by victims, but not one single person actually is a victim.
Younge’s documentary conforms to a long liberal-Left tradition of portraying Britain as being somehow uniquely unpleasant. The Brexit vote has only inflated their rhetoric to ever more febrile heights. During the documentary, Younge stated that, “The fear. Bigotry. Anxiety. None of this is new. As long as there have been minorities of any kind in this country there’s always been that [my highlighting]”. Drop the words “in this country” from the above statement and we have an apparent universal truth. But Younge is identifying such consequence as being specifically British.
Oh Yeah? As opposed to what other country? Modern day black South Africa, with its mass murders of Zimbabwean immigrants, immolated for merely walking down the street? Russia, where neo-Nazi skinhead groups have murdered hundreds of ethnic minorities? Maybe the milk of human kindness flows in Nigeria, where in 1983 million nearly two million, mainly Ghanaian people, were deported en masse and dumped in Ghana in the middle of a drought. Or what about pre and post-revolution attempts by Libyan Arabs to exterminate their black population, lynching hundreds? Or Indonesia where in 1998, following the economy taking a dive, the good people decided to massacre their ethnic Chinese?
And yet we must accept that “this country”, Britain, tops all of that with its ‘funny looks on the bus’, and the occasional broken window. Younge hammered the point home: “Eastern Europeans, taken aback that Britons might treat them this way [with bigotry], seem either unaware or uninterested that Britain has always been treating some groups this way”. Again, we can only infer that this sort of behaviour is not a universal human trait, but is limited to certain countries/peoples (perhaps even just Britons), otherwise, what would be the point in using specifics. We would not say, ‘people in Britain eat and drink’, because all people everywhere need to eat and drink. Indeed, to make such a statement would be to suggest that some peoples don’t eat and drink. But this is what Younge is doing in his pronouncements. We might assume that in his worldview, the universal truth, ‘sometimes members of ethnic groups are suspicious of different ethnic groups’, would become ‘Britons are suspicious of different ethnic groups’.
I am not suggesting that all Britons are blameless angels. There are many horrible, bigoted people in the world, and some of them will be British. I am sure that as a black Briton, Mr Younge has experienced racism in his life, and I am sure that he could speak eloquently on the black experience in Britain. He will have faced struggles that I, as a white person in a predominantly white country, have not. I am not denying that bad things can happen here. I am, however, railing very much against the notion we Britons are somehow more bigoted than other peoples.
What is racism, if not ascribing negative characteristics to an entire ethnic group? Is that not what is happening in the above statements? Despite much evidence to the contrary, bigotry in Younge’s documentary is being presented as something that is non-universal. Is it not ironic that in reporting on a British bigotry that is intrinsic and specific, the makers of Eastern Europeans in Brexitland are being a bit bigoted?