Shipwrecked bigotry reflects British undercurrent of racism

By The Ligali Organisation | Wed 24 January 2007

As plans to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade Act come under increasing criticism, the comments of a reality show contestant highlight Britain’s on-going failure to confront the legacy of its enslavement of African people.

The media regulator, Ofcom has received more than 500 complaints following Channel 4’s broadcast of the reality show, Shipwrecked: Battle of the Islands on Sunday 21st January. During the show 18 year old student, Lucy Buchanan states;

“I don’t like it when foreigners come into our country and they don’t take on the British culture and British values. I’m quite for the British Empire… I’m for slavery but that’s never gonna come back”. Her comments were aired by the broadcaster despite heightened criticism of the channel for what people felt was its uncensored and disingenuous propagation of racism displayed by three personalities in the Celebrity Big Brother house.

The channel sought to defend itself against this latest round of criticism by claiming that Buchanan renounces her position later in the series and is challenged by her fellow contestants. A spokesperson for the channel said:

"When Lucy airs her views they are criticised and challenged by the other contestants immediately, so viewers are aware that they find them offensive and unacceptable. Viewers who continue to watch Shipwrecked will see that Lucy's views change and grow as the series goes on and she meets new people."

While Channel 4 seek ways in which to present carefully contrived responses to allegations of racism, the comments of Buchanan have a timely resonance with the British government support for self congratulatory commemorative events to mark the passing of the 1807 Abolition of the slave trade Act. Organisations and members of the African community have been campaigning against the ‘celebratory’ tone of events for several months for various reasons, one of which is the fact that government’s agenda has so far revealed itself to be that of the propagation of historical myths in a bid to cultivate a sense of pride in Britain as the worlds leading humanitarian interventionist nation. The historical reality of 1807 is that the trafficking of enslaved Africans did not end with the passing of this Act nor was a single African was freed. The formalities of the various parliamentary Acts associated with the enslavement of African people were simply precursors for the introduction of the destructive enslavement of Africa by foreign nations through colonisation.

Buchanan’s views were undoubtedly fuelled by the very sense of ignorant pride that the government aim to promote throughout their 2007 Wilberfest celebrations. Far from addressing the failure of the education system to promote an accurate, respectful and holistic history of Africa and African people, the government are more intent on promoting a european politician in the form of William Wilberforce as the man who saved African people whilst incorporating ‘slavery’ into the British curriculum to reaffirm to our children that it was the primary actions of campaigning europeans that managed to save the ‘passive’ African victims.

Footnotes in history

Attempts to quell the increasing objection to Wilberfest have been made through the incidental promotion of Olaudah Equiano, an African man who was kidnapped from West Africa and trafficked to Barbados and then to North America. He eventually managed to buy his freedom and became renowned for his 1789 book The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African. Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho both feature on a set of six commemorative stamps that will be issued by the Royal Mail on 22 March 2007. However, in light of the focus given to Wilberforce, the role of Equiano is being purposefully undermined as a mere foot note to the Wilberforce story. Crucially, whilst Equiano was involved in the British abolition campaign, there were countless African people involved in mass insurrection and resistance movements who have been completely written out of the government’s fairy tale history.

Lucy Buchanan’s comments were undoubtedly racist and offensive. However, while she is clearly racist, she is not a racist in isolation. Campaigning against an 18 year old girl is not looking at the whole picture. Focusing on one individual lets all those responsible for her racist views off the hook and we can not forget that it is the media, the government and society in general that produces the Buchanan’s in British society. Buchanan’s views represent the mindset of a sizeable section of the population and the most effective way to deal with this problem is by addressing the root causes and not just the symptoms. Buchanan and Jade Goody, the latter of whom has been made a scapegoat by the British public and media who wish to project her as an exception in an otherwise ‘tolerant’ society, exist in all echelons of British society. The problem is that while the British media are busy making ogres out of these two ignorant individuals under their ‘holier than thou’ rheotric, they are failing to stimulate the debates that really need to be had about the prevalence of racism in British society which, in the case of these young people, is often the result of a lack of the right kind of education and the purposeful suppression of African history. The misrepresentation of African history goes on to inform the warped perception Britain’s ethnic majority have of African people. Until this matter is addressed sincerely and with a qualitative and quantitative input from the African community, the lack of cultural maturity and the resultant ideological promotion of ‘white supremacy’ will continue to infect the psyche of Britain’s ethnic majority. Racist outbursts and tantrums from reality show contestants, comedians, football fans, footballers, judges, journalists, police officers, politicians and well known personalities are common place and will become more so whilst the off target finger pointing continues.

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We would encourage people to complain to Channel 4 and the regulator Ofcom about the opportunistic manner in which Channel 4 have cynically sought to promote and increase the profile of Shipwrecked by exploiting the current controversy about racism in Celebrity Big Brother.

Campaigning against an individual will ultimately have little effect and does not target the real source of the problem. To be clear, Lucy Buchanan is a racist. Her comments were racist. But the decision to air them at this particular time was taken by Channel 4. As with all the major broadcasters, Channel 4 has fallen far short of any significant attempt to address the ignorant attitudes, cultural superiority complex of Britain's ethnic majority and miconceptions of history that fundamentally underpin the racist ideology that inhabits the mindset of many sectors of British society.

One of the most effective ways to make your views known to Channel 4 is by not watching Shipwrecked as this works directly against their intention to increase audience figures through generating racist controversy.

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