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September 23, 2005

Theodore Dalrymple asks, is The Guardian institutionally racist?

Posted by Theodore Dalrymple

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.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and retired earlier this year as a doctor.

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It is of course possible that blacks were doing newsworthy things on the day in question and Asians weren't! Actually, I'd suspect that this bias might be true of all "quality" dailies.

As a jazz fan, my CD collection of course fails the "Dalrymple test" far more spectatcularly than the dear old Grauniad.

Posted by: Innocent Abroad at September 23, 2005 11:32 PM

As a fossil now approaching its 60th year, I remember that in the Cretaceous we did have a problem in regard to our view of black people, since we hardly ever met any, so our perception was largely moulded by imperial hangovers and tales of the plantations. During the Sixties, the dinosaurs were pushed aside and the liberal conscience flourished, and feeding off the Civil Rights struggle in America and the apartheid system in South Africa, started putting out the view that black people had a problem and it was all our own fault. This transmuted into the view that black people *are* a problem and it's all up to us to do something about it.

Two examples of this particularly rankle. A few years ago, they appeared, one on BBC television and one on an independent channel. (I forget which was which). One channel started a "black awareness" series with a programme featuring the difficulties encountered by black male prostitutes. The other presented a short news item relating to schizophrenia in primary schools, and showed a table in a classroom round which were five pupils, three black, one South Asian and one white.

Do black people need enemies, having "friends" like that? Instead of prodding our consciences in order to ease their own sense of guilt, it might have been much better to try to keep things in proportion and allow the majority to learn by habit to see the face before the race, as even this Mesozoic relic has been learning to do.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at September 24, 2005 06:13 PM

I have not dared state this before, because it is purely apocryphal, and not backed by any statistical evidence, but it is no less supported by evidence than Dalrymples’ thesis, so here goes.
Last summer I was redecorating a house on my own and every weekday afternoon I listened to Radio 4 programmes. Over a period of about three to four weeks, nearly every radio play broadcast had an ethnic theme and cast. From memory, I think I listened to about four Asian plays, one West Indian play, one play set in South African exploring the evils of aparthied, and one play set in 18th century Scotland. I’m not criticising the plays themselves, most of them were very good, but I couldn’t help feeling that there was an agenda in operation. The ethnic balance was somewhat distorted to say the least.
I wonder if there is a web site that monitors ethnic balance in the print and broadcast media?

Posted by: John East at October 5, 2005 02:39 PM

Innocent Abroad wrote:

"It is of course possible that blacks were doing newsworthy things on the day in question and Asians weren't! Actually, I'd suspect that this bias might be true of all "quality" dailies."

But this presents two options for defending The Guardian, whereas Dalrymple's piece is an analysis. Either what is possible or what one suspects, may well counter the picture Theodore Dalrymple is conjuring. But together these two objections add up to mere reflex.

I take Dalrymple's point as important, because I relate to The Guardian as offering a liberal humanitarian coverage of world events. Often I disagree with their editorial preferences but do not fault their integrity. So when Dalrymple points out evidence of unconscious trends or agendas, the response is a matter of defending not their coverage per se, but the genuineness of their intent. Innocent Abroad failed this test.

Posted by: Dom at November 2, 2005 02:28 PM

You make far too many assumptions and the data you have collected is nowhere adequate too make this sort of judgment. It is through assumptions that prejudice arises, and i think you need to acknowledge this yourself. A very poor article.

Posted by: A Student at May 21, 2006 04:53 PM

his faux 'argument' that the guardian was institutionally racist was meant to expose the ridiculousness of reflexively attributing all racial inequality to prejudice

Posted by: Danny at June 10, 2006 01:44 PM

Dalrymple obviously does not intend to make a persuasive case by relying on statistical data alone; they are meant to illustrate a much broader point. The fundamental belief of left-leaning intellectuals is that the media have the choice of either playing a part in social change or resisting it. Absolute neutrality is not an option for such thinkers: it is merely a conservative illusion. Therefore, the more exposure an "underprivileged group" receives, the more it may be said to distinguish itself.

But does it truly distinguish itself? Do photo-ops amount to better jobs, a better education, more freedom? Hardly. Goodwill and make-believe fantasies may assuage the liberal conscience and justify the encroachment of "critical thinkers" on the humanities, many of whom now belong (or wished they belonged) to ethnic minorities. It cannot put bread on the table or encourage people to excel in any way.

Toni Morrison (a black American) is arguably one of the best authors living today. Had she lived 200 years ago, she would probably have spent her life in toilsome obscurity. Had she come of age today, the uncritical praise her juvenilia would have received from the PC establishment might have deprived her of the incentive to go on writing Beloved.

Posted by: Passerby at August 26, 2006 11:45 AM

Theodore Dalrymple is a bigot. Why else would he be so obsessed with race?

Posted by: Fred Flinstone at January 12, 2007 10:00 PM


I love how some of the people who posted comments totally misunderstand the points made in the article.
It's unbelievable. The irony, the satire...jeanius son!

And the truth should set us free, but i guess some need eyes to see and ears to hear first...

Posted by: peeete at February 2, 2007 12:29 PM

I must agree with the postulation. In fact I've been running a number of little statistical experiments along similar lines on MSM in general to amuse myself over the past 10 years. It shows up more than one trend in this way. Television advertising is for example specifically targeted to take advantage of apparent social and perceptional trends so it is a good way of 'mining' trends that have been identified from much larger datasets used by advertisers.
It can corroborate or deny the social trends that you perceive in daily life. Allowing for significance I find that there are several strong trends that started out flying in the face of other data that conform with what I would call 'establishment views' that are now being bourne out in attitude or reality. The conclusion I draw is that advertising does reflect and possibly influence prejudices. As to what those prejudices are I suggest that not only the news but also the education supplements and legal supplements are viewed in a similar manner to Dalrymples experiment. I leave you to draw your own conclusions. Generally I take the view that a bias is exhibited when results for example they are at odds with the presupposed target demographic to the tune of 70 - 80%.
Well done Dalrymple/

Posted by: Loper at May 26, 2007 01:47 AM

Wow, I've never read such a pile of tripe in my life. Well, I found some that came really close but this is laughable. I though such blatent over-reaction only came from middle class Anglican housewives but no, there's others aswell.

I could say "the BBC is institutionally racist due to the proportion of white to black news presenters being unbalanced." Then again, I have no idea what the ratio's of white/black persons who actually applied for the jobs in the first place were. It could be there were none, with only Asian and White people applying. Or it could be there were better candidates who happened to not be black. For me to jump to the conclusion that the BBC has institutionalised racism based on something like that would be bigotish (does that word even exist? Who cares, you get the drift, I hope).

The whole issue of race adds a further question: What do we want more - proportional race representation in the workplace or people who can do the job? I'd rather have people who can do the job thanks, if it turns out that none of them are asian or all of them are black what harm is it going to do?

Right, here's a good one:

Name 10 Asian British international athletics competitors from the past 20 Years. Then Name another 10. Then another 10. See how many you can find.

Try that with White or Black competitors and it's easy as peeing. With Asians, not so easy. Is that to say the world of international atheletics, as far as the UK is concerened, is institutionally racist? Or could it just that there are more White/Black people involved than asian people? To be honest it's most likely the latter.

I really hate to say this but Theo, get a bloody grip.

Posted by: Chris Smith at July 2, 2007 01:58 AM

"Wow, I've never read such a pile of tripe in my life... I really hate to say this but Theo, get a bloody grip."

Like several of the contributors above, you haven't understood his argument. Reread what he's written and what you've written. Your point about blacks in athletics is precisely the same as his about blacks in football: talent can prevail regardless of race. He's actually taking a swipe at the idea that "institutionalised racism" is lurking everywhere, by wryly pointing out that the ideologues who push this idea are --- according to their own simplistic racial profiling methods --- racists too.

Posted by: Paul H. at July 23, 2007 04:51 PM

I am sorry for this rather late comments here as I discovered this site only two days ago, but needless to say, very interesting article as always from Mr. Dalrymple. Just like in Malaysia, where those entrepreneurial Chinese and Indians immigrants of yore (and even till today) self-operated little village retail/grocery/ stores and eateries -- "these humble businesses" -- opening them for long and tedious hours to provide an essential service to the communities who would otherwise find it difficult, or, to put it in the positive, make it convenient for them to obtain their daily necessities thus obviating the need to travel, in some cases, long distances to town to procure their material needs. For many then, it was the norm to lead a frugal existence that sometimes bordered on the spartan and it was not unusual for them to scrimp and save in order to give the next generation a better life than they, and their forefathers have had. And the result of years of toil, hardship and sacrifices?
They are quite visible here today and it would be superfluous to describe them.

Posted by: SD Goh at October 4, 2007 02:34 PM

Further more if we look at the representations of the female of the species from the ethnic minorites; when we look at especially the number of East Indian women portrayed in the media, news, television adverts, promotional literature and even the new representation of beauty it is an Inidan girl. The BBC currently has a love affair with female presenters of asian origin. As most white males do! In serials they are prolific and most banks, shops and place where they need "eye candy" it is in the form of Ini
dian girls or light coloured "black" women. When we look at how the media portay Indian men, it is in a comical manner, gay, infertile or sterotypical corner shop owners. A point in case that on most cookery programmes white chefs are always making currys or Asian inspired dishes. When they do have an Indian, it is a female and the one exception is a comical gay male Indian chef. Why should there be this underepresentation of Indian men especially when most of the best chefs are male? We have to look at the evoultioanry concept of the lion pride pricipal and pack theories. The female from another pride is always welcome so that genetic variance occurs, the males are fought of and become nomadic. Evoultion is still with us at a subconcious level! WIth Indian men I think they believe the threat to be far greater than in terms of black men. One way to surpress them is to not show them or show them as a comical figure.

Posted by: Himanshu Hansji at March 3, 2008 09:35 AM

It is true. Open your eyes. Years ago Hollywood made the good tolerant police chief Black and the baddy white. Then they made the bad White guy even better. He got played by a British actor. One could go on and on.

Posted by: Lord Falmouth at June 7, 2009 04:05 PM
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