Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Silly News Reporting on Race Relations

Ah, yet another alarmist report on race relations; what would we do without those? This time it's Britain that's under scrutiny.

More than nine out of 10 white Britons have no or hardly any ethnic minority friends, according to a poll that reveals the continuing gulf between races and religions more than 40 years after the UK became a multicultural society.

The Guardian has seen details of the survey, to be released this week by the Commission for Racial Equality.

It shows that a majority of white people do not share the bonds of close friendship with their fellow black, Asian or Muslim Britons, meaning they may lack the empathy that close contact can bring. The CRE warns this leaves swaths of the population open to believing the worst of different ethnic and religious groups.

The poll found that 94% of white people say most or all their friends are of the same race, while 47% of ethnic minorities say white people form all or most of their friends. More than half of white people, 54%, said they did not have a single black or Asian person they considered a close friend.

More than eight out of 10 white people have no friends who are practising Muslims, and only one in 10 white people was close to a Hindu or Sikh. Pollsters YouGov asked 2,065 white and 808 ethnic minority people aged over 18 for details of their closest 10 to 20 friends in an internet survey.


The poll found that 54% of white people have no friends at all from the ethnic minorities, with 46% saying they have at least one. Three in 10 of ethnic minority people surveyed said all or most of their friends were Asian or black.
The next bit is particularly amusing, if only for showing the way in which policy entrepreneurs are willing to seize upon any old piece of news, however meaningless, to push their own agendas.
The CRE chair, Trevor Phillips, said: "It surprised me the extent to which the majority community still does not really know minority communities." He said the lack of close knowledge could lead white people to believe lurid tabloid headlines and racist propaganda. "When it comes to race and religion this clearly demonstrates we are dealing with a difference of which most people in this country have no first-hand experience, and therefore it is not surprising that they can be misled about blacks, Gypsies and Muslims, and it's not surprising that for no apparent reason they can become hostile and racist."

Mr Phillips said integration could not be left to chance. He believed the government should fund US-style summer camp places for 16-year-olds where they can take part in activities with teenagers they would otherwise not meet: "In Britain we still don't know each other. We are not like Ameri cans who do know each other but have made an active choice to live in a segregated society."
Nice to see how quickly Mr. Phillips is can think up some totalitarian scheme to force young people to "know each other" - one can be forgiven for thinking he was talking about state property, rather than human beings with wills of their own. Perhaps someone ought to tell him about the Young Pioneers and the Hitler Youth.

Now, getting to the heart of the matter, do I really need to point out why this story isn't worth taking at all seriously? Let's take a look at the CIA World Factbook entry for Britain and proceed from there: according to that resource, "West Indian, Indian, Pakistani, and other" (i.e, non-White Britons) constitute all of 2.8% of the British population, and even if we're feeling generous and decide to triple that percentage for the sake of argument, "ethnic" minorities would still constitute no more than 8.4% of the entire British populace. Now, on the assumption that people of all races within Britain make friends entirely at random, we'd expect 91.6% of white Britons to have friends mostly or all of the same race as they are - hardly any different from the 94% reported in the body of the article - and once we take account of the tendency of racial minorities to congregate in particular sections of the big cities, the odds of this being the case can only go up. In short, this Guardian reporter's taken an entirely innocuous survey result and spun it to look as if it were ominous for the nature of race relations in Britain.

I don't doubt that Britain is no island paradise where race relations are concerned - far from it, as the heightened profile of the BNP indicates - but it just won't do to use unexceptional statistics to stir up unneeded alarmism like some journalistic Chicken Little. Stories like these only provide ammunition to those who'd love to dismiss even the most well-founded complaints about discrimination as so much PC whining.