17032015Tue

Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

#COMMENT: Black and Brown Faces at Office Christmas Parties

Many people, by which of course I mean some of my friends, think that being a journalist is glamorous - all breaking news and high powered press conferences.

The reality however, is quite different.

There are few ethnic minorities in journalism.  This month an (Asian) journalist wrote in a private list that he saw there were very few brown and black faces at the Christmas parties he attended.

He wondered if there was an article in it.

He is on the staff of a mainstream broadsheet however, and was worried writing this may hamper his career.

The well-known investigative journalist Kurt Barling recently spoke at an National Union of Journalists meeting, and pointed out the racism he faced as a journalist at the BBC, calling it a ‘hostile environment’.

“It’s not just a question of recruiting Black journalists, but retaining them once they are there.  The BBC is good at recruiting minority journalists, but "woefully bad at retaining them", he said.

The Times naming UKIP’s Nigel Farage as ‘Briton of the year’ makes me nervous.

Normalising UKIP’s views and its members is how the divides and tensions begin.

When casual racism becomes the norm again, tolerance will be harder to find, and peaceful co-existence happening only behind closed doors in multiracial families.

Take for example a woman on my street; I know by the way she speaks to my elderly mother that she’s racist.

My mum is far too polite to challenge her so she pretends to not notice.

But I ignore her. She ignores me. UKIP and those who join them will give her the courage to disparage us even more, I feel sick even living on the same street as her.

Coming back to the journalism industry, this past summer I was invited to a press conference. 

The topic was the high prevalence of Diabetes among ethnic minority communities in the UK.

It was held in a private room in a high end restaurant in Central London.

Everything proceeded routinely until a ‘prominent’ Doctor - Dr Abraham - answered a question I put to him related to something he said about the high incidence of diabetes within the South Asian community.

I asked: 'Does the incidence of diabetes decrease in the UK comparatively to the Asian subcontinent, due to better diet, access to healthcare etc in the Asian community?'

He answered by saying it was down to inbreeding.

His “colleagues in the Midlands and Bradford had large caseloads" and citied it as one of the main factors for the spread of Diabetes in the South Asian community.

His reasoning was that inter-marriage among South Asians increases the spread of a gene that allows for the spread of Diabetes.

He mentioned inbreeding with gusto, and at least three times.

I was stunned.  Stunned and quietly shocked.  When I tried to challenge it he continued with the word ‘inbreeding’.

Of about 50 people in the room there were two Asian journalists (including me) and one black man.

But no other journalist commented.  Nor did any of the healthcare professionals seated at the fine-dining tables.

For the record, I checked carefully and there is no scientific evidence at all to back up this doctor’s notion about “inbreeding” as a cause of diabetes spreading among South Asians in UK.

When I tweeted clearly what he’d said later that day he said it was a 'misunderstanding' and he'd been 'misquoted'.

But I didn’t misquote him.  In front of a large audience he repeated his assertions about “inbreeding” with no scientific evidence to support the claim.

But I found it equally surprising – and painful – that my challenges to his horribly flawed argument remained unsupported by both my journalistic colleagues and the other medics present.

The question still remains unanswered by Dr Abraham, what has diabetes got to do with inbreeding and if nothing, then why mention the word so many times in relation to South Asians?

The PR Company tried to silence my tweets, and haven't invited me to another function since.

Let me say I was born and bred in this country: London is my pride and joy.  I enjoy the pub and a curry as much as the next person.  I eat turkey at Christmas and I have a (mini) Christmas tree: I don’t know any other way of life.

I am not married to my cousin and I don’t know any brown people who are.

This is a multi-cultural melting pot, you accept me and I accept you.

Is the world changing to be more accepting to xenophobia and for the worse, you tell me?

I don’t want to go back to the 70’s and 80’s.  I like to practice tolerance and understanding. 

But something tells me these incidents are not stopping at a problem of only a few black and brown faces at the office party.

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