Is The Guardian Institutionally Racist?

Theodore Dalrymple, Social Affairs Unit, September 22, 2008

Theodore Dalrymple asks, is The Guardian institutionally racist? The views expressed in this article are those of Theodore Dalrymple, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

Is The Guardian—the best newspaper in Britain—institutionally racist? Alas, I think the answer must be a resounding Yes.

I had long had the impression that blacks were over-represented in photographs published in the newspaper by comparison with people from the Indian subcontinent or with the Chinese, and I tested the accuracy of my impression by counting the photographs in the edition of 19th September 2005.

There was only one photograph of an Indian, and that was in a commercial advertisement, over the content of which The Guardian, presumably, had little or no control. By contrast, there were 26 photographs of blacks. Surely this was a discrepancy that could not have arisen by chance, and is proof positive of a systematic bias amounting to racism. After all, there are more people of South Asian descent in Britain than of African and West Indian descent, and yet Indians were the subjects of fewer than 4 per cent of all the photographs of ethnic minorities to appear in the newspaper.

How are we to explain this? Does it mean that The Guardian, if it systematically ignores Indians, harbours specially friendly feelings towards blacks? By no means: I think the most likely explanation is quite otherwise. I admit that my hypothesis cannot be proved and is somewhat speculative, but I think it is more plausible than the alternatives.

The people who run and write The Guardian have deep, suppressed and subliminal doubts about the equality of human races. To prove to themselves that they do not have such doubts, they overcompensate by publishing as many photographs of blacks as possible in their pages.

They don’t have any such doubts with regard to the Indians and the Chinese. Moreover, these two groups have a horrible and fatal vice, as far as the mindset of The Guardian and its readers is concerned: grosso modo, these two groups can shift for themselves, and require no help from the coalition of intellectuals, moral entrepreneurs and bureaucrats in order to thrive. On the contrary, they are well on the way to outstripping the white population in achievement, thus demonstrating the redundancy of that coalition.

By contrast, blacks are regarded in the pages of The Guardian much as conservationists regard endangered species, in need of special protection. They therefore represent a goldmine for the coalition.

No doubt my hypothesis will be regarded as far-fetched by some, and founded on the spurious assumption that the numbers of photographs in a newspaper can tell you something important about the views and feelings of those who write and publish it. But in essence I am only applying to them the methods and arguments they so easily, frequently and earnestly apply to others.

Indeed, in the very edition of the newspaper to which I have referred, there was an article by Gary Younge —one of the blacks whose photographs appear in it—in which he states that:

Bangladeshis have the highest rate of unemployment, reaching just over 40% for men under 25.

For the author, this in itself was evidence of injustice and prejudice against them, an aspect of the institutionalised racism of the country as a whole.

As far as he was concerned, no other explanation for the situation and the statistic needed to be considered. It was not worth considering the fact that the Hindus and Chinese actually have lower rates of youth unemployment than the native whites. This, presumably, meant that in his view Britain actively and unfairly discriminated in favour of Hindus and Chinese, no other explanation being possible or even conceivable.

If he really believed in his own argument, and given the systematic bias in The Guardian in favour of blacks and against Asians, he would be prey to the most terrible and torturing of self-doubts. Was he published there because he was good, or merely because he was black?

In fact, he is a perfectly adequate journalist. I rarely agree with what he writes, and he seems to me to have a very narrow viewpoint, but he is certainly no worse than many other journalists. His championship of the coalition of intellectuals, moral entrepreneurs and bureaucrats is no better and no worse than anyone else’s.

The idea that all differentials in achievement between groups of human beings are attributable only to bias, illicit discrimination and prejudice is a primitive one, a little like the Azande idea that everyone dies of malevolent witchcraft, but it serves the ends of those who want to politicise the whole of life and control all social developments. Such people do not believe that societies can reach satisfactory accommodations and equilibria spontaneously and piecemeal, without central direction and an overall plan, usually their own of course.

This is nonsense, of course. It isn’t long ago that football clubs in this country were deeply prejudiced against black players, but it soon enough became clear to them, thanks to the obvious talents of black players, that they would be ill-advised to reject black players on account of the colour of their skin. There was no central plan to this effect, any more than there was a central plan to make the owners of newsagents and corner stores predominantly Indian.

These humble businesses, incidentally, have been the motor of a great deal of social mobility, something which their owners understood a great deal better than the intellectuals, moral entrepreneurs and bureaucrats. The quiet heroism of parents who have kept a little store for twenty or thirty years, often in the face of very difficult conditions (despicable racist abuse among them), that their children might be educated, ascend the social scale and enjoy richer, fuller lives than their own, moves me far more than the rage of those who see only racism and discrimination.

Primo Levi most movingly wrote that each person should be judged as an individual and that no person should be judged according to his membership of a race or nation. But that is not the same as demanding that group outcomes should be absolutely equal, for then anti-racists will become mere mirror-image racists.

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