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Does Shilpa Shetty’s victory indicate the triumph of anti-racism?

by Parm Kaur
7 May 2007 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: Celebrity Big Brother [1] | Commons

I was first made aware of Jade Goody’s racist remarks by friends – white friends – keen to get my point of view. Momentarily, all other aspects of my identity – as a poet, writer, artist and educationalist – were suspended. I was merely a South Asian woman who became a spokesperson on all things to do with race. It was not the first time this had happened of course. But the ferocity and persistence that friends, acquaintances and even strangers interrogated my views on the events in the Celebrity Big Brother (CBB) household, and made comments such as “she’s not really racist – she’s just white trash”, and “this is political correctness gone too far”, was surprising.Was it that liberal England and the media were shocked at the racism that was expressed on CBB? Or merely that they were shocked that they it had been expressed so publicly?

Even if we put to one side the increasing manipulation by television companies of so called ‘Reality TV’ shows, which have played an integral part in the construction of the age of the celebrity that we live in, (or as others say in the  ‘the elevation of the mediocre’), the wider geopolitical and economic context was one of the main reasons why the CBB ‘race row’ appeared to become such a huge global issue. If Gordon Brown had not been in India during the show and witnessed first hand the Indian reaction to the mistreatment of one of their Bollywood actress, would this have been taken up by the media in this way at all?

Shilpa did ‘win’ the contest, with the mainstream British media condemning Goody’s racist remarks as merely the hostile expression of an underclass, and thus no reflection on British society as a whole. A media that any of us who have stepped through its doors remains a bastion of the white middle-classes. It’s much easier for established journalists and commentators to pour disdain on the racism of ‘white trash’ from a distance, rather than actually acknowledge the racism that runs throughout British society, including the whiteness of their own institutions. Although institutional racism has been legally recognised since the Stephen Lawrence case, no systematic whole hearted attempt has been made to address the racism that pervades other major British institutions, other than the Metropolitan police force and the tokenistic ill-thought out schemes scattered throughout the cultural and arts sector.

A general ‘anti-racist’ indignation being aired still did not result in Channel 4 admitting that Jade’s remarks and actions had been racist (the commercial sponsors thought otherwise, withdrawing all future involvement). The public debate in Britain was significantly devoid of any serious consideration of the political, social and cultural roots of racism in this country. The ensuing debate failed to inform those of us who are British Asians anything much that was new – very few non-white British citizens I’ve known have escaped without name calling, and blatant discrimination be it at work, in their experience of public services or indeed in their social interactions. So the indignation expressed in the media, had perhaps less to do with the rise of anti-racism than plain old economic. India – as a global economic player – must not to be upset.

The question that has to be raised now surely is what, if any will be the tangible consequences of this media spectacle?Will public policy address the erased histories on Britain’s former colonies and its history of colonisation that are taught in our schools? Will more resources be made available for better housing, and services for the most poorest in British society or has the label ‘white trash’ now become just a dumping ground for all the ills of society that the middle-classes wish to ignore? Will there be a heroic quest to root out all traces of racism in all British institutions, from football teams to the Cabinet Office?

Or was this, as is more likely, merely a small beginning of the recognition that India and indeed many ‘non-white’ cultures who are present here and abroad, have an economic clout that has to be acknowledged, recognised and respected as ‘Britain’ continues to negotiate its economic and cultural position in a post-colonial world?

Contributor biog pending
All posts by: Parm Kaur | Email | Website

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