Ava Vidal: What colour am I? Black? Not black enough? Black with a hint of peach?

Is Trevor McDonald less 'black' than 50 Cent? You rarely get street gangs reciting, 'Coming up after the break, Gordon Brown'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

This is hardly the American-style dystopia, with its roots embedded in slavery, that the head of the Campaign for Racial Equality (CRE) sees in Britain. Nor does it reflect my experiences growing up in small-town Britain, or of multiracial London.

Last year, a CRE survey found that most white Britons could not name a single non-white friend among their 20 closest acquaintances. That might be understandable in the predominantly white towns of rural England. In Haywards Heath in West Sussex, where I went to school, there were not enough black people for a police line-up.

But in most parts of cosmopolitan London, Mr Phillips's assertion that children are less likely to make friends "across the colour line" does not ring true. It's certainly not reflected in the company my 11-year-old daughter and six-year-old son keep in Crouch End.

I remember the frequent visits our family made to the only other black family in my home town of Kettering. The car journey home was always the same, with my parents complaining bitterly. When I suggested that we didn't actually have to spend time with these people, they always snapped back: "Yes we do: they're black."

Pre-teen girls' friendships may be fickle, but they're more likely to be based on whether they wear the right brand of trainer, prefer The Simpsons or Futurama than on their skin colour.

Yet some segregation of communities undoubtedly exists, and, I'm sad to say in my experience, it's often more actively encouraged among the black community than the white. Second-generation black Britons such as myself are often ingrained with rigid values and behaviours passed down from our parents, who instil in us the belief that to drop them would somehow be to lose some essential "blackness".

The debate about whether some of the very people Mr Phillips credited with doing so much for race relations in this country - the black people on Big Brother - is still raging on in the black community. How dare Makosi behave in that way on national TV? That is not the way that black women are supposed to behave, she is a disgrace to her race and so on. We decide who is and isn't black enough. I often wonder if there is a Dulux colour strip to help determine the various shades: being black, not black enough and black with a hint of peach.

It's nonsense, of course. Is Trevor McDonald less "black" than 50 Cent? Yet it's the ghetto culture represented by the rapper that's considered more alluring. You rarely get gangs of kids on street corners reciting, "Coming up after the break, Gordon Brown on European integration."

Our children need to look beyond glorifying this one tiny, unedifying aspect of American street culture. Yet we should celebrate the fact that such a diverse range of cultures live relatively peacefully together in London, and our other cities. But we can do better. We need to look at aspects of our culture and be less concerned with segregation along colour lines and concentrate on segregation caused by gross economic divisions between the rich and poor that leave young people frustrated and open to brainwashing by extremists.

Ava Vidal is a stand-up comic