Make Bradford British

Channel four’s two parter “Make Bradford British” has had the expected panning from the mainly White and definitely Middle-class journalists, but I thought it was very interesting.

In a sentence, the idea of the programme was that they lifted eight completely diverse people from neighbouring Bradford areas from their somewhat racially defined geographical areas, plonked them into a single house, Big Brother stylee, and then asked them to spend a couple of days in each other’s lives back in the real world, Wife Swap stylee.

I suppose the first part (last week) was actually not that different to Big Brother, but I’m guessing the idea was to put them in a situation whereby they’d get to know each other whilst all being outside of their comfort zone.

In the second part, they were paired by the programme makers, and we had those exceedingly awkward moments when they were all out of their comfort zones staying in each other’s houses, sharing each other’s lives.

Without narrating the whole programme, I’ll reflect on a few stand-out moments for me.

I think it was dominated by non-Islamic people versus Islamic people.  Religion seems to force the biggest cultural differences.

A common theme seemed to be the difference between traditional English white (Westernised?) women and Muslim women and their role in their home and society.  This traditional and accepted sexism surely divides us, and it always will.

An old white middle-class retired Magistrate lady, Maura, was paired with a somewhat traditionalist Muslim gentleman, Mohammed.  She was shocked at how he would bang his foot on the floor in order to summon his wife or daughter from the kitchen.  Now, he made his living as a taxi-driver, mainly picking up wasted and awful people late at night from clubs, so one could argue that he contributed to the household that way, whilst the (I assume) stay at home women managed the home, not unlike a traditional 1950s housewife in all-White Britain. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this if all parties have given their informed consent, and that other options are available.  However, I suspect that other options were not available to the women in his family.

Mohammed was then looking very uncomfortable helping lay a table for a somewhat traditional formal dinner that was going to be held in Maura’s house.  After a few hours of being asked to wash-up and do, well, woman’s work alongside Maura’s husband, he was suitably wound-up and fled.  We never saw Mohammed again, but he has my sympathy.  He really was being hen-pecked at non-stop!

An old retired white ex-policeman, Jens, was paired with a black fella, Desmond, with a Mr T haircut.  Jens made the classic mistake of constantly referring to Desond’s colour.  Even down to pointing out that there was a black person in the Salvation Army band he (Jens) was part of, he seemed to constantly bring up the blackness. Jens, of course, lived in a very posh rural area, and was mad.  Or eccentric.  He had a flagpole in his front garden, and hoisted the Union flag to mark special occasions, including the occasion of Desmond staying with him.

Jens did that thing that old white people do of talking about ‘coloured’ people, and making racist jokes thinking they are ok because if he meant it he wouldn’t have said it.

The fact is that the very old generations, or those from very rural areas haven’t done anything different.  The world, however, has changed around them.  We should cut them some slack.  It’s not as if it is they who have gone to another country and changed the entire demographic there.  All they are guilty of is just staying the same and keeping their traditions.  Nobody has explained to them they need to adapt and change as the community around them changes.  Some might retort, “Why should they?”  Hmmm, that’s a huge can of worms; having to change who you are because everybody around you changes.  Whatever the rights and wrongs, it’s very hard.

And for some of the long time indigenous population of Britain, finding out that these days none of your neighbours can speak English is very frightening.  These people need help, they should not be demonised.

I warmed to Sabbiyah, a very modern nicely educated Muslim woman who was paired with Audrey, a black/white mixed race pub landlady.  It was interesting that whilst Audrey had a chip on her shoulder about her racist treatment of years gone by from the White community, she was openly racist about ‘Asians’.  I think for her the penny dropped that racism is racism, and eventually we were shown her putting up signs in her pub saying racism would no longer be allowed.

Sabbiyah had helped out behind the bar, but not touching alcohol which is haraam (forbidden) under Islam, and had engaged with the all-White locals.  There was an awful moment when some drunken leering prick groped her knee (touching a woman in this way is also haraam) and started going on about how she should be wearing a mini-skirt instead of her modest clothing.  Sabbiyah was later seen crying over the awful way she’d been treated, and I felt so very sorry for her.

Rashid – deserves his own regular show on TV!

The hero of the whole exercise for me, and a shining example of the good side of Islam, was Rashid.  He was a bearded semi-traditionalist looking Kurta-wearing bloke who’d be easily caricatured as some form of extremist by his looks.

He devotedly wanted to pray five times a day, back in his familiar mosque, which initially meant he was missing out on large parts of activity in the house.  Add to this that he chattered away constantly to camera or to whoever he was with like somebody on speed, and he initially appeared to have been set up by the programme for us to laugh and point at. How very wrong were we!

It turned out that after a slightly racist argument that he wasn’t part of, that it was Rashid that was the one trying to build bridges and explain what had gone wrong to those that hadn’t quite understood how they’d hurt others.

He was later paired with a White lad, Damon, and it turned out that they shared a lot more than was first obvious, both having failed marriages and children they only got to see now and again.  They bonded and became good friends (and still are, after the documentary), and, as was shown on the programme, Rashid removed the demonisation of Islam in Damon’s mind and helped him feel welcome as a non-Islamic guest at his mosque.

Personally, I think Rashid should have his own TV show.  I am no fan of any religion.  But, he showed compassion and qualities towards others that he would argue are taught by his religion, yet I might argue show him as a truly and genuinely caring yet great fun British individual.

Overall, Make Bradford British worked for me, but probably on a level that wasn’t intended.