‘The Last Whites of the East End’: Racist or Realistic?

Newham has 147 languages spoken across the borough, and a White British population of 17%

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A recent BBC programme focused on the issue of integration and diversity in London’s East End has prompted extremely divisive reactions amongst viewers, with many users expressing anger and disappointment at the way in which the sensitive topic was handled.

‘The Last Whites of the East End’ aired on BBC1 on 24th May 2016 and focused majorly on the borough of Newham, where 73% of residents are now ethnic minorities and black British minorities. Several residents spoke to the BBC1 show about how they will be moving out of the borough soon for areas with a higher White British population such as Essex.

The show stated that around 70,000 immigrants have moved into London’s east end in the last fifteen years, and claimed that although some residents consider themselves to be ‘true east-enders’, many areas of the area have issues with communities sticking together and refusing to integrate with neighbours.

In the programme Peter Bell, secretary of East Ham Working Men’s Club, said on camera, “[People say] I can’t believe what’s happened here, it could be Baghdad.”

“I don’t think the Muslim community want to be part of the traditions here.”

Newham is considered one of the most multicultural areas of the UK, with 147 languages spoken across the borough. According to national census figures, the ‘White British’ population of this area has dropped from 34% to 17% since 2001 – however, this is still the largest single group of any in Newham, and more people report a British or English national identity than before.

Newham council also appeared to disagree with the portrayal in the show. Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, said in a statement: “One of this borough’s greatest strengths is its diversity. People from all backgrounds, cultures and faiths proudly call Newham home.

“The distorted image of our borough reportedly portrayed in this documentary is not one I or the majority of our residents identify with.”

Twitter user Chessca Pinamang said of the show: “#thelastwhitesoftheeastend why do you try to fuel racist situations via television @BBC1? I find this slightly hard to watch”

Twitter user Jonny Walker and Newham resident agreed, stating:”Schools was particularly misleading – Newham schools are strong, multicultural, inclusive, English-speaking & we do do Xmas!”

Twitter user Joseph Finlay took a similar stance, commenting that: “The Last Whites of the East End is dangerous nonsense. People said all the same things in the 1880s with Jewish immigration.”

The issue of ‘White Flight’ in the UK has been much discussed in relation to many urban areas across the UK. Immigration is not a new phenomenon, and cities such as Bradford and Newcastle have come under fire in recent years for having supposed large areas of low-integration, high-immigrant populations. ‘White Flight’ is a term that originated in the United States, starting in the mid-20th century, and applied to the migration of people of various European ancestries from racially mixed urban regions to less multi-cultural suburban regions.

Deprivation and poverty was also addressed as part of the show – Newham is one of the poorest areas of London, and issues of low income and barriers to social housing affect all ethnic groups in the borough.

Social researcher Ludi Simpson states in his 2009 book ‘‘Sleepwalking to segregation’? Challenging myths about race and migration’ that the growth of ethnic minorities in Britain is due mostly to natural population growth (births outnumber deaths) rather than immigration. According to his research, both white and non-white Britons who are able to do so economically are equally likely to leave mixed-race inner-city areas.

Not everybody disagreed with the portrayal of Newham, however, with some online viewers supporting the approach taken by the show.

Twitter user Space Bunnyopolous tweeted in relation to the show: “The truth is not racist.”

Similarly, twitter user Jay Nottage commented: “People not liking this bbc documentary Last Whites of the East End its only telling the truth but I take it some people don’t like the truth”

Twitter user Newark Anagram tied the programme into a comment on the EU Referendum, stating: “The ‘Last Whites of the East End’ programme should act as a stark warning. If we don’t #Brexit, other towns & cities will also disappear.”

While the programme clearly stirred up highly divisive reactions amongst viewers, both residents of Newham and across the rest of the UK, some reactions were rather more light-hearted, with Twitter user Katie O commenting: “Since when was Newham the east end?

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