Race and Ethnicity

26/10/12 - BBC News Magazine and Radio 4

This is the script of the Point of View talk first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on October 26th, 2012, also available on the BBC News MagazineMissed the programme? Download it as a podcast or listen again on BBC iPlayer.

I was on a taxi journey in Shanghai with a very intelligent young Chinese student, who was helping me with interviews and interpreting. She was shortly to study for her doctorate at a top American university. She casually mentioned that some Chinese students who went to the US ended up marrying Americans.

I told her that I had recently seen such a mixed couple in Hong Kong, a Chinese woman with a black American. This was clearly not what she had in mind. Her reaction was a look of revulsion. I was shocked. Why did she react that way to someone black, but not someone white? This was over a decade ago, but I doubt much has changed. What does her response tell us – if anything – about Chinese attitudes towards ethnicity?

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The torrent of racial abuse at Spanish matches is the product of a society that is in flux and is also uneasy with immigration. But don’t be complacent, warns Martin Jacques. This is an enemy that English football has yet to defeat

Getafe is a small industrial satellite town on the southern edge of Madrid. Its football ground is modest in the extreme, all-seated but covered on just one side, with a capacity of a mere 13,000. The ground is lined on two sides by soulless, multi-lane roads, on another by a building site and on the fourth by five-storey public housing. Getafe hardly seems the appropriate place to take the temperature of Spanish football. But on a Sunday evening in March, the club, lingering in the lower reaches of the Primera Liga, played Real Madrid . It may only be 15 kilometres from the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Real’s temple to football in central Madrid, to the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, Getafe’s humble home on its outskirts, but the clubs occupy two entirely different worlds.

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As the only racial group that never suffers systemic racism, whites are in denial about its impact

I always found race difficult to understand. It was never intuitive. And the reason was simple. Like every other white person, I had never experienced it myself: the meaning of colour was something I had to learn. The turning point was falling in love with my wife, an Indian-Malaysian, and her coming to live in England. Then, over time, I came to see my own country in a completely different way, through her eyes, her background. Colour is something white people never have to think about because for them it is never a handicap, never a source of prejudice or discrimination, but rather the opposite, a source of privilege. However liberal and enlightened I tried to be, I still had a white outlook on the world. My wife was the beginning of my education.

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Five years ago Martin Jacques and his family moved to Hong Kong to start a new life which all too soon ended in tragedy. Finally, an anti-racist law that might have saved his wife’s life is to be introduced

Hong Kong has been shaken over the past few months by a series of crises: the Sars epidemic, continuing economic difficulties and huge opposition to new security legislation. No doubt Tony Blair, during his brief visit last week, will have discussed each of these, together with another, less-publicised affair: the long-running debate about the need for anti-racist legislation.

When my wife Hari and I arrived in Hong Kong on November 2, 1998, accompanied by our little boy Ravi, just nine weeks old, we were borne on a wave of optimism and expectation. We planned to spend three years in Hong Kong: Hari working for her international law firm, me to write a book and make a television series. It was familiar territory to us: our relationship had started there during a whirlwind week back in 1993.

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