Do You Belong to the Community?

Whenever the media describes someone as coming from a ‘community’, you know they are not white. This use of ‘community’ serves to lump together disparate people into homogeneous and stereotyped groups.

‘Community’ serves as a euphemism that invokes stereotypes of certain groups. It is easier to say ‘the black community…’ than it is to say ‘black people’, because it sounds less prejudiced. The term ‘community’ enables the media to set up boundaries between ‘them’ and ‘us’. Why does this matter? It constructs some groups as normal, insiders – white British people – and ostracizes others as problematic. So the media plays a role in increasing the racial tension in Britain.

One consequence of this media normalisation of the term ‘community’ is that it allows others to justify their own views that society is (and should be) divided. The coroner at Charlene Ellis’ inquest said: “It is time for your community to pay back and to conform with our belief”. Whatever his intentions, his comments were offensive and he was forced to apologise. Why did he divide black people from the rest of society? And why is the black ‘community’ indebted?

My parents come from Caribbean islands more than a thousand miles from Jamaica, yet in Britain no distinction is made. Black people from different countries and continents are all ‘members’ of the black ‘community’. But Black people in Britain differ as much as do white people and they are equal members of British society. So why bunch them together in an imaginary ‘community’?

One reason is to allocate blame. The black ‘community’ is made responsible for rising gun crime and for a culture of disrespect. Black people collectively are blamed for social issues in Britain. This conveniently absolves from responsibility all other groups, particularly white middle England. For example Thomas Hamilton shot three teachers and twenty-eight pupils in Dunblane (1996), yet he was never labelled a member of the white ‘community’, but Eli Hall, the armed hostage taker in Hackney (2003), was always a ‘member’ of the black ‘community’.

Reports about “gun-toting” in the black ‘community’ are a form of negative stereotyping. They ostracise black people and create resentment. Some black people who feel devalued by society seek to gain respect on the street – it is a vicious circle.

‘Community’ leaders are very popular in the media. They hold up a prominent black figure and say that he/she is a leader of the black ‘community’ – do we hear about leaders of the ‘white community’? There are no black elections and I do not want a non-elected, non-representative leader. Eminent black people should be referred to as experts in their field of speciality, not as spokespersons for all black people. Black people are not all the same and they do not have uniform views.

Newspapers ‘for black Britain’, like ‘the Voice’ and ‘New Nation’, also refer to their “community”. This is as negative as the mainstream media treating black people as a homogenous group. People from similar backgrounds form alliances and campaign together, but this does not constitute a ‘community’.

It is important that in multicultural Britain children grow up in an inclusive society where they embrace their differences. The Oldham and Bradford riots demonstrate the problems that arise when communities are segregated. In areas with racial tension parents often put their children in schools with a majority of people from the same background. Faith schools are a good way of separating, for example Christian, Jewish or Muslim children, from others in the local area. Unfortunately the effect of this segregation is to intensify the racial tension as people adopt ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentalities.

In a climate where the BNP are rising in popularity (this January they won their 5th council seat), it is important that the media does not exacerbate racial tensions in Britain.


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