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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Author tells of race relations
The White Family deals with the reality of racism in post war Britain
Gee wrote in the aftermath of Stephen Lawrence's murder
Orange-prize shortlisted author Maggie Gee has said that the time has come for white writers to tackle the subject of racism.

Speaking to the BBC World Service's Meridian Writing, she said: "I think we have problems in owning racism as a white issue."

Her eighth novel, The White Family, focuses on the multi-racial nature of British society.

"Very often it is part of white behaviour and I think that is why it is something that we should be writing about."

Relationships

Prompted to write the novel following the murder of black teenager, Stephen Lawrence in April 1993, Gee told of her belief that deprivation is often at the root of racial tensions.

"It depends on levels of poverty and despair and how much people then project on to incomers there own sense of despair," she said.


"In parts of London people do live together very well, but there are other parts where there is a great deal of hatred"

Maggie Gee

Set in London, the book uses the intertwined relations of a working class, white family to examine the reality of racism in post war Britain.

"I am writing about Britain at the weak end of the welfare state," she explained.

"Fifty years after World War II, I am looking at racist attitudes in the context of the loss of Empire and how that has affected the British psyche."

Complexity

In the book, the unapologetic racist head of the White family becomes ill, and his estranged daughter and her black boyfriend are thrown together with his younger son Dirk.

A vicious youth, Dirk travels around London with a knife tucked inside of his jacket.

Gee told of how she used the character to depict a city where violence is barely concealed.

"In parts of London people do live together very well, but we know that there are other parts of London where there is a great deal of hatred," she explained.

By unravelling family ties, Gee aimed to reveal the complex issue of racial prejudice.

"I wanted to show how complicated people are," she said.

"They might be a racist, but they are also capable of great love and of a sense of justice and loyalty."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Maggie Gee speaks to Meridian Writing
"I wanted to show how complicated people are"
See also:

27 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
White Teeth to be televised
15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Positive measures needed on race
22 Apr 02 | England
Race divisions report 'ignored'
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