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'BBC film reinforces insititutional racism'

Exposing racism in police force, the film was a wake up call for White Britain, writes Elaine Sihera.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2003 21:29 IST

Once Bill Clinton said: "You can put wings on a pig, but that doesn't make it an eagle." That would sum up the general attitude to the concept of equality and diversity in this country. Many White Britons are unsure of how to deal with difference and so there is an awful lot of hot air and blandishments around equality - many pigs trying to acquire the angelic wings of inclusivity without any real commitment while thinking that the mere process will make them turn into eagles.

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Do you think the British media deliberately focusses only on negative issues related to the ethnic minority?

The Secret Policemen

on BBC1 proved that futility beyond a doubt. The sudden furore around the programme was a wake up call for White Britain, but Black Britons have already been there, got it and still have the emotional marks to show for it. There was nothing in that programme that the average Black or Asian person had not experienced already.

The shocking part of it was the absolute venom of what was revealed and to actually see it in action. The Black Police Association has been telling the Home Secretary and senior officers for years about racism in the Police Force, but the complaint has been falling on deaf ears.

It is only a few weeks ago, when they said they would stop recommending minorities to join the Police Force, that they were taken seriously. Now, Britain's racism is right there in celluloid for posterity and what an indictment of our society it is. As these were brand new recruits, what would they have been like after a few years of practising their art and increasing their power? It does not bear thinking about!

Make no mistake about it: Britain is institutionally racist, a simple fact that has been denied ever since the Lawrence Report. Where there is no clear leadership on such an emotive issue there cannot be consensus, confidence or change. Without any lead from the politicians, except to constantly bash asylum seekers and to blame them for all our ills, the field is wide open to also bash anyone who doesn't fit the majority characteristics.

Thus, racism is quietly condoned, particularly by the media and politicians who choose to highlight only the negative things around vulnerable minority communities. For example, there has never been a camera or mainstream reporter at the very positive, uplifting and bridge-building British Diversity Awards, but mention something about guns and the Black community and the reporters are out in force. That's precisely how racism thrives: by emphasising the deviance and negative stereotypes around minorities while depriving them of positive exposure which could change those perceptions.

Respect is based entirely upon three powerful forms of perception: individual, group and institutional. Personal perception perpetuates the most discrimination, group perception reinforces it and institutional perception validates and maintains it. Ironically, the most powerful perception of all three and the most easy to change is personal perception (like the policemen in the film). However, it is institutional and group perception which currently attract the most attention and which are regarded as the basis for all forms of bias. Yet those policemen were not even part of the institution and just look at their personal views, showing conclusively that institutional racism cannot ever be changed without a focus on personal perception and individual perspectives.

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 21:33 IST