Trevor Phillips: 'Reality TV is a chance to encounter other ethnic groups'

From a speech by the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, given at the CRE'S Race in the Media Awards, at the Curzon Cinema in London
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The Independent Online

According to our surveys, very few people in the majority community actually know anyone from a minority well. Even in London fewer than one in five knows a non-white person well, even though they often work alongside minority colleagues. Outside London the figures are far worse.

So most people's idea of what a black or Asian or Chinese or Gypsy person is really like is almost entirely based on what they read, hear and see in the media.

It's hard to tell you just how powerful these stereotypes can be. Unless you've seen it first hand you can have no idea how baffled the British public can be when confronted with an Asian family which does not own a corner shop; or a black man with a university degree and no convictions; or a Chinese woman who doesn't do kung fu.

But so-called reality TV, whatever you think of it, has given many British people a chance to encounter people from other ethnic groups in a way they would never do in their own everyday lives.

Young British people are increasingly demonstrating that they can respect the culture of their parents without having to adopt it wholesale. For example, who could ever dare to ask British Asian women to be sweet, submissive and silent, after watching The Apprentice's Saira Khan in action?

And I don't suppose that the Big Brother house is most people's idea of any kind of reality. But in Kamal, the bisexual Muslim; Derek, the world's poshest black man; and Makosi, the feminist Zimbabwean nurse who seems entirely capable of putting a quick end to Mr Robert Mugabe's rule if she were to get anywhere near him with an enema, we have three people who would confound any possible stereotyping.

Most encouragingly, according to the man behind Big Brother, Peter Bazalgette, the evidence is that the voters do not line up in any way - that is to say, they seem completely uninfluenced by issues of race and ethnicity in deciding who they want to chuck out or keep in.

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