The Loneliest Jukebox

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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Racist Friend?

Back in the day, Jerry Dammers of the Special AKA advised his listeners to turn their backs on racist friends, have nothing to do with them, send them to Coventry. (Ironically, Dammers himself was from Coventry.)

Now the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has come up with a poll showing that 90% of whites have no or few close friends from ethnic minorities. Taking a break from investigating itself for racism, the CRE has certainly upset a few Guardian readers and invited the mockery of at least one Guardian columnist. Statisticians can quickly knock holes in some of this scaremongering: the 5.5% of Britons from ethnic minority backgrounds are not evenly distributed across the land, leaving white folks in my Dad's hometown (Plymouth) or my Aunt's current residence (Skegness) hard pushed to encounter, let alone befriend, the statistically correct proportion of ethnic minority members. Here in London or in my hometown of Leicester a different picture emerges, particularly when divisive and essentialist versions of multiculturalism are downplayed or kept out of the school system.

A key point about friendships is that you don't choose them according to the rigorous equal opportunities policies pursued by the London Borough of Waltham Forest. (Space does not a permit a discussion of whether said Borough sticks to these policies...) They are forged in often spontaneous circumstances initiated by geographical circumstance and developing from there. Most of my friendships tend to go back to my school days (hello Murph, Woody, Nick and Grover), to the Leicester music scene or to various political campaigns and organisations I have worked in. Once in these situations things developed from there. Only morbid curiosity draws me to friendsreunited because the friendships I was really interested in have survived independently of Internet nostalgia. As another friend of mine points out 'The idea that we should each seek to recreate the full diversity of society among our own friends both trivialises the struggle for political equality and makes a mockery of friendship.' No doubt the CRE would like to extend the current campaign against 'peer group pressure' (aka spontaneously developing friendships) to include its current doommongering statistics.



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