This short series of documentaries from the 1990s exemplifies the type of work that made the BBC great. I am sure it fueled the right wing brigade who view most explorations of their work as a conspiracy. However, I remember it as a reasoned look at British history from the 50s onwards as politicians of Conservative and Labour governments as they tried to reconcile the view that immigration is a problem with the need for community cohesion between diverse groups.
The documentaries took a chronological look at the way race informed politics and the way some politicians used race to spread fear or court popularity or both. Talking head interviews were conducted with those who made policy and those who suffered from it, as well as those who swam against the tide.
What came across was the sense that Britain is a fair country and one that has created a new sense of identity through accommodating different groups, mixing and creating genuinely diverse communities. Giving sanctuary to Ugandan Asians in the 70s is just one example of this generosity of spirit. Yet, it is equally clear that at every stage there were those who wanted to whip up resentment and hatred. I am not going to name them as they are mind- numbingly boring and unimportant.
‘Playing the Race Card’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This novel by Karen Campbell covers many of the themes I think are worth thinking about. The recent UK referendum reminded me of the book and the essential issues it covered. Set in Glasgow, Scotland (recently shown to be one of the more enlightened parts of the UK) it is the story of Deborah, a woman wanting to find a purpose in life after the death of her husband, and Abdi, a refugee trying to start a new life in a new country with his young daughter.
Deborah trains to be a mentor to new arrivals and Abdi is her first ‘case’. We follow them as they get to know each other and as they both negotiate their respective roles. The more they are together, the more they reveal their pasts and the paths that led them to the same city at the same time.
The novel does not flinch from the realities of working for refugee charities in a climate that is not always welcoming; the fate of a secondary character reminds us that asylum is not always easy to come by.
I enjoyed this novel immensely for the first two thirds but lost enthusiasm in the final section. The book headed towards a ‘happy’ ending and one that tied up loose ends. It may satisfy many people to end the novel in this way but it left me feeling that the realities faced by most refugees are harsher. In any case, bravo to Karen Campbell for writing a novel that tackled difficult questions in a humane way. Novels like this will be needed in this country in the years ahead as we ‘break away’ and show ourselves to be insular Brexiteers.