Totally topical

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
MINDFIELD - HATE THY NEIGHBOUR. The Dividing Lines of Race and Culture. Edited by Susan Greenberg. Camden Press Pounds 9.95.

This is the first in what promises to be an excellent series - a collection of articles, poems, strip cartoons, photos and extracts from official surveys, all built around a power-ful theme. The theme here is race, but not in the narrow sense of "colour". What Susan Greenberg has expertly collected, or commissioned, is material that moves effortlessly from discussions of tribe, caste, genetics and nationalism to culture, creed, anthropology and politics.

Images and arguments are all the better for being contradictory. It's a nice touch to have Yasmin Alibhai-Brown lash out at Ann Leslie of the Daily Mail, and then to follow her piece with a thought-provoking article by Leslie herself.

The first few pages are distractingly crammed with boxed-off poems by James Berry around a tremendous piece by Alex Pascall, but it does not take long to get past the style and into the excellent substance. Collections in which popular journalism nudges up against polemic rarely work. This collection confounds every initial prejudice a reader might have. It is engaging, truthful, never dour, and, above all, is set in an international and historical context that gives the contemporary material an incisive edge.

An interview with a hapless British National Party member is followed by an account of the Falasha Jews who were airlifted into Israel. And a picture story of the Stephen Lawrence case precedes Chris Myant's lucid account of how the press handles racial and cultural conflict. The only regret I had was that the ethnic tension of Chinese communities does not receive much coverage.

You could use this material in post-16 language and literature teaching, on humanities courses and in general educational schemes such as ASDAN that are now proliferating. Some of the writing is highly personal, some of it reserved and scholarly. It will be fascinating to see if subsequent issues, on family, food, and child abuse, maintain this excitingly high standard.

Bill Greenwell is head of performing arts, languages and English at Exeter College, Exeter

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