Sunday, August 05, 2007

Post Modern

When did it stop becoming socially acceptable to make racist comments? When I was in my teens I remember cringing with shame and embarrassment at some of the remarks made by people of the older generation. A great-aunt married a particularly offensive man who liked to talk about Yids, Coons and Pakis and I remember assuming that his vitriolic views were a product of his personality. But even my dear father used to complain about the coloureds. I had several friends who weren't white, so I took it personally.

Then, suddenly, it all seemed to stop.

The racism didn't go away, but a lot of people realised that they could no longer assume that other white people would share their views. The jokes stopped.

But then the pendulum swung in the other direction. Political correctness appeared and soon, every children's programme seemed to have a quota of black faces, even when it was set in a Scottish fishing village. This could have been a good thing, but the reality was that racism hadn't disappeared. People had just stopped talking about an uncomfortable subject.

Historians in the future could be forgiven for assuming that we live in an era a racial harmony, if they watch programmes like Balamory. The reality is quite different, as anyone who lives in the poorer parts of London knows and the number of young black men who have been shot, stabbed or injured this year is a statistic that many would rather ignore. Sweep it under the carpet.

Which is why I say hats off to Doctor Who! You may wonder what's behind this tangential leap, but the fact is that Doctor Who is one of the only recent British drama series to have openly acknowledged the thorny issue of racism. In the two stories which involved travelling into the past, the Doctor's assistant Martha Jones has to put up with bigoted, racist comments. In Shakespeare's London she is called a Blackamoor, whilst her claim to be a doctor in 1913 is refuted with the comment 'I hardly think that someone of your sex and colour could be a trained physician'.


It's to their credit that the scriptwriters of Doctor Who have acknowledged that a black woman with a strong London accent is going to meet with adversity and the result has been some of the best drama I've seen for a long time. Not talking about racial problems reminds me of the people who used to say that class was no longer an issue. If a primetime family drama like Doctor Who is prepared to tackle uncomfortable issues then perhaps there's hope for all of the other television dramas that reduce people to quotas and cliches.

1 comment:

Poplar Reader said...

I absolutely agree about Dr. Who. It's fantastic, that rather than ignore Martha's colour, and simply bask in the multi-cultural pleasure of having a black co-star, they've taken the bull by the horns and allowed racism to be part of the story lines, to show how things have changed. This follows recent trends in Dr. Who to take up political issues like war and government.

However, racism is of course still there. What would be very brave, would be for Dr. Who to tackle contemporary racism. That would be really challenging for all those who'd like to believe we live in a world fundamentally better than the past.

Dr. Who and the Macpherson Report perhaps!