Volume 17 Number 6
Why Lola is Growing up Rich

01 December 2004

A child’s perspective is often unexpected, occasionally amusing, sometimes challenging.
When my wife, Erica, and I lived in London we had staying with us for a time two Zimbabweans: Dexter, who was very black, and Alec, who was white and blond. Our daughter, Juliet, then about four, asked, ‘Do you know how I tell the difference between Dexter and Alec?’ She answered her own question. ‘Alec wears white trousers.’

My mother was living at the time in Zimbabwe. We had a visitor from that country, a Methodist minister. ‘Why is Arthur black?’ asked Juliet. ‘He comes from Africa,’ said Erica. Juliet’s response, ‘Is Grandma black now?’

A child’s perspective is often unexpected, occasionally amusing, sometimes challenging.

Juliet, now grown-up, has lived for the past 15 years in Los Angeles. On a visit to England last year she watched on TV the guards trooping the colour on the Queen’s birthday. She exclaimed in astonishment at the end, ‘They were all white!’

I saw black and red and gold. I didn’t see white. Nor, I venture to guess, would most other whites in the UK. But it would be obvious to non-whites.

These thoughts came to mind when I considered the findings in July of a survey of racial attitudes in Britain. They show that the UK’s white majority is integrating less with other communities than the non-white population, that 94 per cent of white people have few or no ethnic minority friends, while 47 per cent of non-white people say that most or all of their close friends are white. The findings also show that most white people have no friends who are practising Muslims while 48 per cent of nonwhite people do.

Trevor Phillips, Chair of the UK’s Commission for Racial Equality, commented, ‘When it comes to race and religion this clearly shows that we are dealing with a difference of which most people have no first-hand experience. Therefore it is not surprising that they can be misled about gypsies and Muslims, and it’s not surprising that for no apparent reason they can become hostile and racist.’

All this made me realize how glad I am that our daughter grew up with children and grown-ups of different races and religions and how enriched my own life has been from the same experience. When my father died 45 years ago a local paper had a headline, ‘Friend of all races dies’.

It is perhaps understandable that here in North Devon, where a non-white face is a rarity, many do not have friends from other races. It is clear, as Phillips said, that their attitudes are often formed not by first-hand contact but by sometimes tendentious reporting. But sadly the change to a multicoloured Britain is often resisted not welcomed. That will take time to overcome. A few more silver Olympic medals by teenage non-white boxers may help!

I was grateful in September to read the results of another poll, commissioned this time by The Times, that makes it clear that Britain’s younger generation are much broader in their attitudes and experience. Eighty one per cent have a close friend who is of a different race or colour than they; 84 per cent say that all races are equally trustworthy; and 88 per cent would be ready to marry someone of a different race.

When we lived in the US, in a predominantly white state, there was a high school near us in the state’s wealthiest community that reflected that racial imbalance. We used to regard the students there as ‘deprived’ as they ran the risk of not being adequately prepared for the world they were entering.

The Timespoll says that the younger the person the more likely they are to have friends from different races or colours. Our baby granddaughter, Lola, is American and is growing up with friends of all races. She is being well prepared for the new world.

Journalist and author Michael Henderson returned to Britain four years ago, after 22 years in the United States. We welcome him back to ‘For A Change’ as a regular columnist.

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