Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

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What a frightening world it must be if you only read the Daily Express

Frightening, but with free baked goods.

Daily Express front page

"BRITAIN'S 40% SURGE IN ETHNIC NUMBERS – 9 MILLION LIVING HERE ARE NON-WHITE", yells the front-page headline this morning. It's a classic tabloid ghost train ride: here come the immigrants, taking over Britain, turning us all a duskier shade of off-pink. When you think about it, "ethnic" is such an odd term to use – we're all ethnic, of one type or another – but they're using it to mean "ethnic minority", as they have done before, together with the rather more blunt expression "ethnics".

I suppose it's one of those things that might bother some people more than others. It depends on whether you think these islands belong to people who are "white" more than people who are "non-white", or whether you see the changes in population as a positive thing. Can you really divide up the various mixed races and groups in this country of rich heritage into the binary of "white" and "non-white"? And if you can, what are you trying to say?

This kind of thing goes back to an "us and them" distinction that has been apparent in the Daily Express and Daily Star for a while, usually in relation to Muslims and British people, as if the two could not possibly be the same. In this instance, the "us and them" narrative is that this country's population is composed of two types of people: white and non-white. The assumption is that "we" are white and "they" are non-white, and there isn't anything in between.

Give the readers what they want

It might be the case, of course, that this assumption may reflect a deeper truth about the readership of the publications in question, but this is still a national newspaper, shouting out from the news-stands to everyone, purporting to tell a version of reality. Even if you are pandering to an ever-dwindling bunch of frightened Little Englanders who are worried about immigrants, that doesn't excuse the use of this kind of terminology, if you're going to have integrity about the things you present as being true and untrue.

But this is 2011. I keep looking at the calendar and imagining that I've slipped back a few decades, to another time, another era, when people didn't know enough about growing up in a multicultural society to know about "ethnic minorities".

But no, this kind of headline is still being splashed in a national newspaper, as if non-pink people were some kind of novelty who only came into being under New Labour and who have been pouring across the (open) borders to try to take over ever since; as if it really is a case of "us" and "them", of "white" and "non-white".

If it weren't so depressing, it would be faintly hilarious. But it is depressing that a newspaper should make a scare story out of there being people in this country who aren't white.

Cakey consolation

The world can be a scary place, of course, particularly if you read the tabloids – but if you got your information about it from the Express and the Express only, you might find it to be more scary than it really is.

Every day, a new scare, a new thing to be worried about, a new reason to hide behind the door chain and be afraid of what's out there. It's a miracle that the readers even manage to get out to the corner shop and buy the newspaper in the first place, so afraid must they be of what lurks out there.

"MILLIONS MUST WORK AFTER 70", thundered Wednesday's edition – but at least there was a free sandwich to keep you going. "FURY AS JUNKIES GET £1BN BENEFITS", boiled Tuesday's edition – with only the promise of a lemon drizzle doughnut to ameliorate that anger. And on Monday, we were faced with "BRITAIN'S HAY FEVER HELL" – mind you, there was a free chicken stuffing lattice on offer, as long as you could see through the streaming eyes long enough to find your local branch of Greggs.

Every day, another scare, another thing to depress you, another thing to make you angry about the unfairness of it all – and another free thing from the bakery. What's surprising, perhaps, is that they're plugging Belgian buns today, of all days. Bloody Belgian buns, coming over here, taking our pastries . . . Still, at least the icing's white. And that's all that matters.