Like most of Twitter, I was sat nervously in front of Make Bradford British tonight. Being in Bradford, I was more nervous than most.
There was an infuriating inevitability to Bradford being chosen for this show, because we are apparently the most culturally diverse city in the UK, and because we had a riot once which an alarming number of people still fail to understand the causes of.
When it was announced that there would be a Channel 4 show in Bradford, even before any details came to light, we all knew that the city was about to get a national panning for something, like always, because we’re only ever considered for a bad story.
The fact that it was about race was yet another reminder that Bradford is apparently not like other cities. I know this, because I love everything that makes it different, but I am so bored of hearing about that one element, it’s becoming tedious. Out of morbid curiosity, and because those of us who live here are constantly having to pick up the pieces from the last media assault, I decided to watch it.
From the very beginning, it made my blood turn to lava. Here was a production company, visiting Bradford, saying, pretty explicitly, ”Ëyou need our help, we will descend from That London to show you how to get along with each other’.
This is to a city that is arguably ten years ahead of the rest of the country in terms of ”Ëgetting along’, because we took a long, hard look at ourselves in 2001 and decided that NOT getting along wasn’t worth it. Tolerance is now ingrained into any true Bradfordian because we need to work together to defend ourselves from shit like this.
The word ”Ësegregated’ was thrown around in the voiceover frequently, with no further explanation, as though none were needed. What does ”Ësegregated’ mean to you, Channel 4? You haven’t exactly said. And you haven’t then provided any evidence that Bradford fits that description that you have failed to provide. You’ve launched straight into introducing us to these 8 people after having labelled the city they live in ”Ësegregated’, and announced you will be teaching us how not to be ”Ësegregated’ without providing any clear measure of what success will look like, due to aforementioned lack of description and evidence.
Instead, I suspect, having watched the first unremarkable half, that you will clap your hands with glee having shown us that if you take eight strangers and put them in close quarters for a week or two, experiencing each other’s lives, that they will start off not knowing each other, then they will get to know each other, and that at the end they will know each other better than they did at the start and be able to talk about each other. Do you know how I know this? Because it’s fucking Wife Swap. Except instead of people being different because one lives on a farm and the other lives in a council flat, or because one is a pole dancer and the other is a life-sized wax model of Princess Diana, this is meant to be because they’re all different religions and colours and that.
Bollocks. It’s because they’re strangers, this is not an abnormal combination of people to be in any room at any one time in Bradford, we just don’t make a big deal about it, and I’m sorry for anyone who looked at that group and thought ”Ëwow, I never thought I’d see the day’, because those people are probably still trying to get over the fact that gays can hold hands in public without getting arrested.
As if to prove a point, by the end of the first programme we’ve seen some basic differences of opinion and lifestyle, ironed out with some chat and common sense. It’s almost like real life eh. Other than Damon and Audrey being pretty ignorant, everyone seemed alright – Proud And Prejudiced it was not, although I’m sure the producers will throw in some of the most ignorant Yorkshire Puddings they could find in part two just to bump up the racism quota. And they will be notably of an older generation representing views that are dying out rapidly as the city progresses via a generation to whom integration is second nature.
One thing I did wish had been explained better was Jens’ ill-judged Paki-bashing ”Ëjoke’. I understood what he was trying to do but I wouldn’t have gone there. I have one friend in particular with a similar sense of humour, and the joke is meant to be that racism is utterly ridiculous, thus mocking the very idea of it as a serious mindset. It’s meant to mock the racist, but if misunderstood it has the potential to offend to the point where you have to be 100% sure that this will be understood before you can go there, and Jens misjudged it. I still think he’s guilty of a misfire rather than malice, and was mortified at having caused offence.
I noticed that, other than the slightly thick Damon and the legendary Sabbiyah, there is no representation of the younger generation, which is weird because Bradford is one of the youngest cities in the country. Where are any of the laid back, intelligent younger girls and boys who are unconcerned with differences of race and religion? I know they exist because I meet them every day. Do they not make good telly or something?
So, let’s have a guess at what Channel 4 meant by Bradford being segregated, and then segregate the fuck out of that suggestion.
The first and most obvious point they may be trying to make is that there are ”ËAsian areas’ because families choose to live near each other. The vast majority of people in Bradford are not threatened by this concept. Maybe some people feel a bit left out, but we get it. It’s the way that Britain used to be, according to everyone’s grandma. Tightknit communities, everyone knowing everyone, families living close to one another, looking out for each other, that’s the cultural norm for Asian families now just like it used to be for all British families back in the golden days. That’s not an act of segregation, it’s cultural, and circumstantial, in just the same way as some people choose to paint their living rooms purple – it’s not that they’re trying to tell me I’m not welcome, but I could read it that way if I wanted.
Secondly, strict Muslims don’t tend to go into pubs. This rules out much shared social activity, since drinking is the nation’s favourite passtime. But you know what? I don’t go to shit RnB nights. Does that make me segregated from people who like Chris Brown? Sadly not.
It’s also much harder to be prejudiced from close quarters. Real prejudice relies on failing to see the other person as an individual, and instead to generalise and stereotype them. How easy do you think it is to maintain that distance from people in Bradford? Think of a difficulty level, and double it. Just living in Bradford without being a hermit immediately removes that extra barrier of ignorance that prejudice requires to thrive. Wherever you work, shop, socialise or study you are forced into such regular encounters with so many different people that to even notice differences between yourself and anyone else would become an effort, so you just don’t.
The Bradford riots were not caused by racial tension between two races living in the city, and I’m sick of the idea that they were. They were caused by a visiting National Front demonstration followed immediately by the kind of policing that might be expected under Chief Constable Mr Bean on crack. In response, people got a bit angry, then a bit arsony, then a bit prisonery for a few yearsy.
This has since been perceived as ”ËBradford’s thing’. But riddle me this, casual Wool City detractors, and Audrey, with your ‘it’s a ticking time bomb and it only needs one spark’ omen: In 2010, the EDL lovingly organised what they called ”ËThe Big One’ which was meant to be a march in Bradford that would give our beloved and barely recovered city a nice ten-year anniversary kick-off for old times’ sake. On paper, it was the perfect plan. Unfortunately for the EDL, Bradford was not segregated but united in rejecting them, and as a result the only way their demo could have been described as ”ËThe Big One’ is if all the other ones had been demos to kick the undesirables out of Polly Pocket. Nobody could be arsed with it, leaving the visiting EDL and the UAF to cuss each other’s mums over the police’s shoulders while the rest of us went ”Ëpfft, what are they like’, and carried on with moaning in union about the Odeon and the hole where the shopping centre was meant to be.
And then, last summer, you may remember a little blip when the whole country was smashed up and set on fire. I lost count of the number of texts I had from various smashed and burning parts of the country from people asking on what scale it was kicking off in Bradford. The answer was, of course, that it wasn’t, hadn’t, and didn’t. If it had, that would have been ”Ëbecause it’s Bradford’, rather than ”Ëbecause it’s happening everywhere’, and I’m sure we’d have suffered more than any other city for it.
Because I know this would have been the case, and because it frustrates me, I’m considering getting a t-shirt that says ”ËI’m from Bradford. Time since last riot: 10 years’ and wearing it every time I visit London, Manchester, Birmingham, or any of those other terrible, rioty places where I’ve ever been laughed at for being from Bradford. Except I won’t, because I’m just so damn tolerant of those poor problem cities.
It’s a shame about the voiceover being so inflammatory, because despite my rants I do think that this could otherwise be a valuable programme and could have avoided slamming the city with a more neutral or even a positive outlook on how well we’re doing by accommodating so many different backgrounds and still running smoothly.
I resent the idea that this is Bradford being taught a lesson, because we’re the last city that needs it, but if it helps the nation to get their shit together when it comes to race and religion then great. I’m not going to worry about segregation being a problem in a place with a long history of immigration, political awareness, grassroots arts and progressive social justice, where you can run into people from five different countries before breakfast without even thinking about it.
We’re not perfect, nor will we ever be, but we’re ahead, not behind, thanks to the new generation pushing through. We don’t need an intervention, we need this to be a non-issue because that’s what progress is. Our biggest problem as a city, in reality, is our council, and no matter who you speak to and what their background may be, people in Bradford will generally agree on that.
What Make Bradford British does confirm is that ignorance is not bliss, but fear. I never feel afraid of other cultures in Bradford because I’m so incredibly nosy, and fear disappears with insight. I’ve met some wonderful people and continue to do so, just by talking shit to them, and you can’t tell by looking at someone whether they have a similar sense of humour to you or what they might have been through. I was once horrendously late for an appointment because the taxi driver I was talking to was telling me a brilliant story about how he used to be in the RAF, had been taken under the Cartwright family’s wing as a child, and how Jesus Man had taught him English as a kid when he first moved to Bradford. We could have done the journey in silence assuming we had nothing to say to each other.
I remember once falling out of the pub, slightly pissed, with my friend Mike, and noticing that the building next door had twinkly lights all over it. We wandered over like zombie moths and before we knew it we were being invited inside by a couple of young Asian guys. It turned out to be some sort of Muslim spiritual centre and we were fed lemonade and had a chat with a very important-looking man who was sat in a big armchair with some Milk Tray. We talked about our religions and lack of religions, amongst other things, and we were invited back whenever. The point is, again, we could have kept our distance, but we didn’t. Although this time, granted, it was more the booze than open-mindedness that intervened to help.
And that seems to be the conclusion that Make Bradford British, despite its horrible title and damning judgments of Bradford, is coming to. Just have a chat, because until you do, you don’t know people. Scientists were amazed.
And now, a nice story to end on. A friend was once chatting to a young Pakistani guy who began describing a group of people he’d just had a run-in with: “They were Paki lads… I mean, I know technically I’m a Paki lad, but I like to think of myself more as an optometrist.”Â
Over and out.
Neighbourhood Noise, a music documentary including Bradford artists’ views on Bradford’s image at the hands of irresponsible commentators:
Bradford certainly suffers from awful stereotypes, led by its constant name-dropping by people like Nick Griffin, which really fucks me off, whenever he says ‘just go over to Bradford, ask the people there’. We are the people of Bradford, and I think we’d all tell him to go fuck himself – Pete Williams, Alt Track
More quality Bradford opinion on Make Bradford British