Limits of prejudice

13th June 1997 at 01:00
OFF LIMITS: TALKING ABOUT RACE. Channel 4, Fridays, 10.40-11.05am to June 20. Age range: 14-19

I have to say I'd be most likely to marry a black woman - because of society. If I come home to Rosie and say, 'Hey, baby, I've had a hard day at work. My boss called me nigger. . . She can't say, 'I understand', because she doesn't. "

The speaker is Brandon, a black American currently living in England. Rosie is Scottish and white. Listening in silence are 10 other teenagers. All are from varied ethnic backgrounds, four having come from abroad. They have been brought to Cambridge by the producers of Talking About Race for three days of chat and fun.

The chat is what we get most of - and, like Brandon's admission, it offers sometimes poignant, revealing or provocative answers to questions like "Do you feel you belong to a nation?" and "Should we mix cultures or keep them separate?" Somewhat too discursive for anything higher than GCSE sociology, the programmes are more likely to give PSE classes something to chew on. In this regard, several of the before and after-viewing exercises in the photocopiable teachers' guide will encourage students to look closely both at themselves and others.

Broadly, the programmes focus mainly on the issues of separateness and discrimination. Though all the participants profess nothing but goodwill towards their fellows, it soon becomes clear that some of minority faith andor race feel estranged from the majority.

Asked in the first programme (June 6) whether he takes pride in his identity, Taner, of German background but Turkish descent, replies that he feels neither one nor the other: "I can only be proud of what I have done or achieved. " Shigulfah, English-born and of Asian extraction, is more definite: "I'd never call myself English. I'd call myself Pakistani, or Muslim, or something like that."

While vox pop interviews imply that some members of ethnic minorities fervently embrace their own cultures because of real or imagined rejection by white society, fun-filled interludes (punting along the Cambridge backs, boogying at a disco) highlight the close bonds being formed by group members. No doubting the message here: small-scale integration is possible. But what about the bigger picture?

The answer is occasionally blurred, but nowhere more than in the second programme (June 13), where a generally sterile debate on the meanings of music takes up more space than it ought.

But things pick up when Russell, who is English and white, points out that prejudice is not exclusive to whites: "Everyone can be racist, and racism breeds racism. There's a lot of racism with black people."

Inflammatory stuff, and a sure opportunity for lengthy discussion on the nature of cause and effect in inter-ethnic relations. Alas, the opportunity goes begging as the programme hurries through its crowded agenda.

This somewhat hectic approach provides plenty of snappy opinions but, ironically for a programme on race relations, it puts the four overseas participants at a visible disadvantage; accordingly, they contribute relatively little. The occasional diplomatic intervention from host Sonya Saul might have helped.

Their stint over, all concerned say goodbye with lots of hugs and kisses; but you do get the feeling that some would have settled for more of a say where it counted most.

A teacher's guide costs Pounds 4.95 from Channel 4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ. Tel: 01926 433333

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