Yet another black actor speaks out about the paucity of good roles for them in Britain. Another superbly talented thespian has abandoned these shores and gone off to the US because that country offers them more possibilities than ours does.
This time it is Treva Etienne, who previously has had good parts in Black Hawk Down and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl, and now has a lead role in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi TV drama Falling Skies. Idris Elba, of The Wire, crossed the Atlantic for the same reason. So too the extraordinarily sensitive actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who we first saw in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies; David Oyelowo, who starred in The Butler; and David Harewood of Homeland fame.
Archie Panjabi and Parminder Nagra, gifted Asian actresses of true grit, got snapped up by US TV producer/directors and never came back. Here they might have had a few moments in EastEnders, no more. I know three other young black actors who have migrated to America after too many years of no jobs or humiliating bit parts as gangsters or dead bodies.
Four Asian doctors, also acquaintances, are absolutely disenchanted with their institutions, which expect much from them and yet treat them as genetically inferior to their white colleagues. And they are embittered too about the way immigrants are demonised. They have all applied to go either to Canada or the US. Black and Asian academics too have moved to countries where they will be better appreciated.
This, then, is the so-called post-racial era in the UK. Which means nobody feels any qualms about conscious and unconscious racial prejudices and exclusion. Lenny Henry is rightly kicking up about the way the BBC has failed to find, nurture and keep black and Asian talent.
Channel 4 is even worse. Meetings are held, worthy promises made, nothing changes. How many times can you watch Alan Davies on panel shows? Or Miranda Hart making us laugh? And why are all TV historians white? Well OK, we do have Death In Paradise. Because it is set on a Caribbean island, it has to feature people of colour. But of course the hero is a white Englishman in a suit. (Yes, I get the gentle mocking, but this is lazy neo-colonialism. What about having a black detective in Jersey instead?)
Look at the longlist for the Booker Prize. The Lives of Others by the Indian-British writer Neel Mukherjee has got in, but that is all. Irenosen Okojie, an emerging black British novelist, is outraged: “Really? Just one non-white author? ...once again it feels like if you are not white and male, your talents don’t matter.” An inevitable result, I suppose, when the judges are all white.
Print journalism is a little better than it was 10 years ago. When I got this column, I was the only non-white person on the comment pages of British newspapers. We have a few more now, for which God bless the bosses. But all the critics are still white and mostly male, and most editors are too. Those of us who are out there have to survive daily racist abuse from some haters.
It is all getting worse again. Discrimination is everywhere from education to employment. Once upon a time we had anti-racist collectives, big hitters such as Darcus Howe, Bernie Grant and Suresh Grover of the Monitoring Group, and white allies such as Ken Livingstone and the Tory MP Peter Bottomley. We still have the gutsy Diane Abbott and persistent Doreen Lawrence taking on racists, but there is no movement, no phalanx to fight back against unfairness and injustice.
Black and Asian people are choosing silence, acquiescence or escape, and most white people think racism is just so over – or that it is justified. The British Attitudes Survey shows attitudes towards migrants and minorities have hardened.
It really is not at all easy being British and black or Asian these days. Some of our brothers and sisters have got into the establishment and do nothing to rock the fine boat. Even more painful is the culture of denial. To call out racism is to blight your chances or invite further abuse. This column will undoubtedly provoke the latter in bucketfuls.
This is happening at a time when gay rights have broken down the resistance of the most homophobic institutions. Campaigner Peter Tatchell challenges power year after year. Where is our black Peter Tatchell? Women too have been rising (again) in recent years, taking on everyday sexism, ugly misogyny, refusing to be co-opted.
In contrast, black and Asian anti-racists are disunited, seem to have given up. It hasn’t helped our cause that Muslims have broken away from what was once a coalition of various ethnicities and religions against all forms of discrimination.
Fragmentation, cowardice and lack of political intelligence have disabled the struggle against racism. Fight, not flight, is the answer. Feminists and gay people have never given up. We should learn from them.
A life full of booze awaits our young people
Our nation has a cradle-to-grave booze habit. It is destroying lives, families and communities, and overburdening our NHS. New figures published by the Government’s Health and Social Care Information Centre are encouraging.
In 2003, a quarter of 11- to 15-year-olds were consuming alcohol. Their grades suffered and they seemed already to be on the road to self-ruination. The figure has dropped to 9 per cent. Drug use was also high. That too has gone down. This is very good news.
Now for the sad news. Children seem to have got the message about the dangers of alcohol, but that doesn’t mean they will be saved.
Adults around them are at it every hour of the day; some newborn babies have alcohol in their blood; universities do nothing to stop binge drinking among students and instead assume it is part of the higher-education experience; television glamorises and normalises pissheads; and every public event and almost every private function is awash with alcohol.
With this hot summer, people are downing even more hooch. The manager of our local supermarket tells me sales of Pimm’s, gin and white wine have rocketed. What lies ahead for the teenagers who have decided to sober up?
They will eventually have to succumb because Britain is addicted to intoxicants – across ages, classes, genders and races. And it will not give up, not even for the sake of its children and their futures.
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