Media (not) for All? Society (not) for All?
A recent report was made on the success of a media training charity in Deptford called `Media for All’, and how it was set up to help troubled Black youngsters. While the story focused on the organisation’s aim to help Black people gain a foothold into media, the charity’s website itself makes no reference at all to Blacks in particular. This contradiction actually offers an accurate portrayal of the race issue in Britain today: That age-old phenomenon of good intent undone by confusion of direction.
Originally titled `Offering help to Black youngsters’, this story notched up fourteen (at the time of writing) responses online – a hot issue for sure. Posters were highly critical that special emphasis was being made for Blacks. One poster was even Black himself and felt such separatism caused ill feeling. This prompted the newsroom to change the title to `Offering help to youngsters in media’ although the rest of the article was left intact. One of the reasons cited for the emphasis on Blacks in the story, and which is indeed common in other related areas, was that there was an under-representation of Blacks in media. Therefore to solve this supposed problem, special measures were (and some may say, are still) needed to increase the participation of Blacks. So an awkward link has been made between population diversity and population activity. Forget that the origins of each of these two areas are as different from each other as can be; it’s the end result that counts. A recipe for disaster beckons as social engineers start to flirt with positive discrimination that can yield resentment (not unlike seen in the angry replies to the media charity story) and it raises a justified concern whether Blacks are in fact patronised with preferential treatment. Society cannot have it both ways: It is impossible to reconcile the aim of a racially neutral world by emphasising racial differences. True diversity is where labels are always in deference to value in the pursuit of integration. Overtime, the sum of the parts becomes more valuable than the parts themselves. This is not the same as making those parts redundant – taking even a small fuse out of an electrical appliance would affect the entire machine. Unfortunately, this view would upset certain people who dwell on the past and seek to keep race very much on the agenda. And it also is at odds with those obsessed with multi-culturalism, a devious social plaything that gives age-old divisiveness a contemporary feel.
It seems to me that we can gain guidance on the best way forward by studying a man who personally lived through and fought extreme prejudice: Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. In his 1964 book `Why we can’t wait’, Dr. King referred to the American Wagner Act of the 1930s that helped support U.S. trade unions to organise in the teeth of State opposition to organised labour. He also felt that similar targeted help was needed for Blacks in the 1960s to overcome racial prejudice in opportunity. But Dr. King was talking in a different time from today: The same book also described job automation as a peril, causing a collapse of manual labour which was, in Dr. King’s words, “an intolerable situation”. But the other thing we can learn from Dr. King is his recognition of not just how to start a crusade but how to close it as well. In 1965, he told members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee that one had to consider how to end a campaign as well as how to commence it. Such an approach was not one of weakness but measured and flexible strength. It gave more open-minded opposition parties a chance to concede without losing face while isolating the extremists. This was a far more effective approach than endless fighting that would have been hard to sustain, create increasingly hard-line factions that would give support to extremists and possibly escalate into a far worse environment. Roll on forty years, and we seem paralysed in what to do about racism in Britain today. Many people are unable to distinguish multi-culturalism as being different from multi-racialism. The first is a matter of choice and the other is an act of nature. Defend the freedom to choose, but do not impose the choice while protect against the discrimination of that which no one has control over. There is nothing wrong with an unequal society as long as there is equal opportunity. And how about imposing timelines like Dr. King advocated? Is it beyond our ability to aim for a date where the need to racially profile ourselves in questionnaires can be phased out? Would such a demise be more acceptable if support was given to use undercover operatives to unearth acts of racism in the provision of goods, services and employment, and, as well as name and shame the guilty, praise the colour-blind? This country can’t afford to support well meaning - but badly defined - initiatives with flawed and dated solutions. And it can’t continue without end either.