Jess Commons | Deputy Editor | Monday, 5 October 2015

Why You Need To Watch The Documentary Exploring If Britain Actually Is Racist

Why You Need To Watch The Documentary Exploring If Britain Actually Is Racist

The Debrief: Stats say one thing but actions say another. Just how racist are we really?

According to a survey from last year, seven out of ten Britons reckon they’ve got no racial prejudices at all. This number’s wavered only a little since 1983 but, with the number of racially motivated attacks rising dramatically in the last few years, are we really as unprejudiced as we think?

It’s this question that finds itself the focus of a new documentary airing on BBC Three tonight. Headed up by journalist Mona Chalabi, it aims to try and find out if we’re as aware of our inner preconceptions as we think.

Over the past several months, Mona's been meeting young people from across the country and asking them to undergo a specially designed test to find if they show preferential tendencies to specific races. By and large the test found that white people leaned toward other white people. Through a different test, one that scans her brain for activity when shown pictures of people from different races, Mona herself found that she’s learned to associate seeing black faces with ‘fear’ – a conclusion she obviously finds upsetting.


But, as frustrated as people on the documentary are to find out about prejudices they didn't think they had, Mona says it’s important to confront them. ‘The first step is more self awareness.’ She told us. ‘Before we can even get remotely close to solving racism, people need to be aware of the way that racism in society has affected them whether they like it or not. Whether it's shaping their prejudices in their brains or whether it’s actually affecting people’s employment opportunities and prison sentences…’

Immigration has had a massive impact on the racism debate in recent years. According to Mona, the two are unfortunately now, linked. ‘I don’t want to tie everything up too closely with immigration but I do feel like it’s relevant,’ She says. ‘There’s two camps in the press. There’s those only willing to acknowledge the benefits of immigration and those that are only willing to acknowledge the costs. And I feel like it means that people are more and more committed to their own readership and their own world views and they’re not really getting a nuanced understanding.’

It’s because of these two polar opposite views and a lack of interaction between those that hold them that tensions are currently so high. At one point in the documentary Mona meets Jack Buckby, a press officer for Liberty GB - a far right party that claims to ‘endeavour to put a stop to our rapidly accelerating descent into economic, educational, moral, cultural and social ruin.’ Jack refuses to accept that Britain is Mona’s ‘native homeland’ despite her being born here. After the interview Mona tells me that he expressed an interest in moving to America, where she currently resides. As an immigrant. Just like Mona’s parents to the UK. Irony knows no bounds.

But it is these conversations which matter. ‘I wish that some of the taboos would break down.' Mona says. I know this sounds surreal but I almost wish that when I was speaking to the EDL that they would call me like a bad word so we could have a more honest conversation about it. It’s very hard I think sometimes when everyone’s saying the "right" things to have a conversation about what their views are.’

Last year there were 37,000 race hate crimes reported, up nearly 2000 from the previous year. In London, hate crimes last year rose by 20%. With stats like this, it’s clear that something needs to be done. The first steps though, are ones we can take ourselves by realising our own internalised fears. ‘If we carry on with the ignorance we’re either deluding ourselves that we’re not racist or we’re deluding ourselves that Britain isn’t racist’ Mona says. ‘And that means we’re never going to get anywhere. ‘

Is Britain Racist is on BBC Three at 9PM, Monday October 5th as part of BBC Three's season on Race. For more information click here.

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Follow Jess on Twitter @Jess_Commons

Tags: TV We\'re Unashamedly Watching, TV That Matters