Why I care about the racism of the Daily Express

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 13 July 2010

If you ask me why I worry about the accuracy of our press, sometimes I'll just shrug my shoulders and say I don't know why it vexes me so much. And then occasionally I'm reminded.

On my way to work this morning I was walking through Walthamstow market, and a guy in his late fifties or sixties was standing, holding his newspaper out, jabbing at it angrily, whilst shouting to the two women who accompanied him:

"It should never have happened. It should never have happened"

He was pointing to the Express headline "One in five Britons will be ethnics".

The racist Daily Express headline: One in five Britons to be ethnics

The thing is, if you read the story, it is based on one extrapolation of birth rate figures, projected about 30 years in the future. I've no doubt that if you'd done the same study a couple of decades after the second world war you could have written "One in five Britons to be Jamaican", and if you'd done it a couple of decades before that "One in five Britons to be Irish" and before that "One in five Britons to be Hugenots / Calvinists / marauding Vikings" etc etc.

Maybe I'm doing the guy a disservice.

Maybe he'll go home, read the whole article, and think, gosh, that is outrageous how they've used that headline to make me feel angry about these shapeless faceless 'ethnics' taking over the population. At some point in the future. Possibly. If all of the birth rates for all of the different ethnic groups in the UK continue at exactly the same rate for the next 30 years which would of course be statistically unprecedented. And by which time some of these 'ethnics' will belong to families who have been settled in the UK for the best part of a century.

But I doubt he will.

And that is why accuracy and responsibility in the press vexes me.

That man was absolutely furious. Absolutely furious about something that hasn't happened, but which the headline writers of the Express have made him feel already had happened

Later on my journey to work a party of school children got on my carriage on the underground. A mix of white, brown and asian origin faces all making a terrific racket and excited about a day out from school and talking about Paul the octopus. One was asking "How can the octopus talk?" and a black girl was saying "It was on the news if you don't believe me".

And I thought to myself, what a shame that as you grow up, some of our mainstream newspapers care more about selling papers than they care about making people hate you for your skin colour.

9 Comments

Apart from the dubious accuracy of the article's content, (after all, we all expect the papers to keep on turning out this bullshit,) and leaving aside the use of sensationalist headlines without a story to support them, surely the use of a noun like 'ethnic' in the headline is both inaccurate and offensive. Inaccurate because we're all 'ethnics', every one of us being a member of some ethnic group or another; offensive, because using the word 'ethnic' to relate only to members of non white, non anglo-saxon groups is racist, especially when used in this context.

So I guess the REAL question is whether the bigger mistake belongs to the publication for its sensational headlines or the customer who forms an opinion on an entire subject based on a headline taken out of context. Personally, I place more responsibility upon the customer (in this instance).

but isnt it reality that people usually believe what they read?My great grandfather was in the sikh regiment and died fighting for the empire in world war 1.Does his death mean nothing on accounts of being an ethnic?

There's nothing wrong with being ethnic. You are right Dave. We are all ethnics. And people should be proud of their ethnicity.

Personally, I place more responsibility upon the customer (in this instance).

Like if you give guns to teenage boys, the kids shouldn't be blamed for what happens?

What I don't appreciate is the perpetuation of racist language and intent. My girlfriend reads the Express (which I loath of her), because she grew up with it in her house, and she doesn't know why she's racist. She has osmotically adopted the stance that immigrants are stealing jobs, etc.

I actually flicked through a copy of the Express the other day, and was astounded by how sexist it was - my girlfriend was oblivious. Sometimes this stuff can have a very subtle effect, though I'm sure that have an effect it does.

(an extreme & fantastical example, I know)

Really off title, the way it's phrased definitely comes across as derogatory.

Interesting blog and I'm glad that i exists. I don't let those headlines bother me much anymore although not so long ago, I used to have the same reaction as the man you refer to. The problem that its very hard for someone, like me, who experiences racism on a daily basis, to ever get across just how wounding and painful it is. Everyday, we are bombarded with messages which let us know that we are thought different of and less than because of race, our hue, cultural heritage, background, etc. What really gets me going though is the reaction of others, when one tries to voice that pain. The immediate instinct is to deny it. No one seems to want to acknowledge that racism exists for fear of....what exactly? I think because there's a fear that in acknowledging it they to might in some way be admitting to some aspect of racism; or betraying the friends and family who they know deep down are a little racist.

One thing on your post though, I'm curious as to why you tell us that the girl speaking was black, but give no further details about the person she was speaking to. I can guess why? Generally, in the press, in writing etc, the common de facto position is white. People tend to only describe what is different to them. That kinda hurts too sometimes.

You guys seem to have exactly the same problem as we do. We have a major network (Fox News) who likes to mesh their position on politics into their news coverage. They still follow and report on the group of people who think Obama is not truly an American citizen, or the bunch of crazies who thing that Obama is a Muslim. The bottom line is that both of these news organizations are only publishing this kind of junk because it sells...

sadly I've grown to expect this from the express, just like the mail they appear to think racism is how to sell papers... again sadly it appears to work for them :(

using the am I human test below now means I have to wipe toothpaste of my monitor, so you didn't mean literally :)

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