Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Crime and Diversity

Have you ever agreed to do something and then regretted it?

How many months ago was it that the Literature Development Officer for Leicester asked me to give a workshop on Crime and Diversity? It was easy to agree - what with the event being so distant. I'd have something to talk about, I reasoned. Diversity is an issue that fascinates me. I'm a crime writer. How difficult could it be?

But as the time for the workshop approached, I started to worry. The more I thought about the title I had been given, the less I seemed to know about the subject. Instead of being able to formulate ideas and come up with activities to demonstrate them, I had more and more uncertainty. Finally, on the day of the workshop, all I had was a list of questions.

And that was what I took to Knighton Library in Leicester - questions. Thankfully, the people who came along to take part had plenty of answers. So I spent a very pleasant two hours listening and learning from them.

Thank you to all who helped. I'm still not sure I know any more answers. Perhaps, in this case, it is enough to ask the questions.


Ambrose Musiyiwa said...

I look forward to reading some of the questions you asked as well as some of the answers that came out of the workshop.

For my own part, I am particularly concerned with how this government is actively defining the the Muslim and the black man as the foreigner and as the hostile other who is bringing crime, corruption, terror and depravity to our streets and who should leave or be made to leave the country.

In the nine or so years that Tony Blair has been prime minister, the number of foreign prisoners has increased by about 150 percent until we have the current situation where about 1 in every 7 prisoners in England and Wales is a foreign national. I doubt that this increase is because foreigners are inherently criminal. It came about because in Tony Blair's bid to hold on to power as well as purge the country of foreigners, he introduced a raft of legislation that not only criminalised foreigners but also made it easier for the immigration services to eject them out of the country.

For example, Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act of 2004 removes or significantly restricts the welfare entitlements of families who have reached the end of the asylum process and who have "failed to take reasonable steps" to leave the U.K. In addition to this, Section 9 allows for children from these families to be removed from their families and placed into care.

At the same time, this government's Social Exclusion Unit in its 2004 report, reveals that children who are in care are at greater risk of coming into contact with the police and the judiciary and of being convicted for a crime. To me this is another example of how this government is deliberately setting up some of the most vulnerable groups in this country.

In addition to this, black and Asian men are over-represented on the the U.K.'s DNA database. Currently the database holds details of 37% of black men but fewer than 10% of white men.

Also, the police were recently given extra powers to take and store fingerprint samples of people that they stop. Am I wrong in assuming that the majority of those who will be placed on this 'new' fingerprint database will be black and Asian?

Rod Duncan said...

Hello Ambrose,

Thanks for your comment. Much food for thought.

One question I asked was to what extent a writer has a responsibility to consider the ethnicity of his/her characters with regard to the balance of their positive and negative characteristics.

To give a very extreme example, if there is only one black character in a novel, and that character turns out to be a gun-wielding drug pusher, would this be a problem?

Most of those present said, no, the writer must be true to the story and not self-censor in any way. Self-censorship is the death of true artistic expression.

Whilst I agree about self-censorship - the writing has to be allowed to flow unhindered - I would nevertheless have problems with the above example.

One of those present gave an answer that seemed very insightful to me. Write whatever the story demands, she said. Then later, when you have a little distance from the material, allow yourself to look at it again and consider the ethical implications. (Thank you, Siobhan, for that.)