Last Thursday the winner of the GBBO was announced. Nadiya Hussain, who I understand was the bookies favourite, won the popular TV baking contest. I had previously said to my wife that if she does win, it wouldn’t surprise me if mass and social media focused more on the fact that she was a hijab wearing Muslim, than just a damn good baker.
Daily Mail columnist Amanda Platell was first to bite for me when she stated that another contestant “was far too middle class — and was booted off this week after her chocolate carousel was deemed sub-standard. Perhaps if she’d made a chocolate mosque, she’d have stood a better chance.” Seriously?
Times Sathnam Sanghera correspondent responded with
This story made me think about how British identity is defined for many non white citizens.
For many people who are born in this country as sons and daughters of immigrants (or expats as I prefer to call mine) there is this struggle for identity. We can call ourselves British but it comes with another a label associated with colour or the origin of our parents. Black British. British Asian. The others.
It is incredibly pernicious how many forms and consensus we sign as adults that divide us as British into “neat” racial categories. In addition to this there is this struggle that us Brits have, when the countries of origin where are parents are from also see us as foreigners. Not as true Africans, Caribbeans, Indians, Chinese. etc. For many we are stuck in a hard place.
Take for instance how the media fall over themselves to describe those who have achieved in sports or entertainment as Brits, but at the sniff of a scandal or straying from the script said person is reduced to Jamaican-born, Somali immigrant, Bengali origin. If this was a one off there would be no course for redress but for many it’s a constant reminder that manny still don’t see you as belonging. As a “true Brit”.
A recent TV series asked the question Is Britain racist?
As a whole I think to make a judgement about 66 million people is a bit narrow especially if you have not asked a question. There are however institutions which by their nature cater more toward white indigenous recruitment, retention and subtle use of racial superiority. Be that the media (see almost any story on migrants), law and order (prejudice on arrests/sentencing), education (expulsion and access to higher ed). That said I think those are driven more by class. A class system that upholds such narrow views by those in power as to what Britishness is, which if we are honest can often be very exclusionary to someone who is not White.
This month is black history month. I have been celebrating this for the first time in years. For many years I stopped doing it but then realised that much of the African and Carribean narrative is missing from the stories. It’s not just about trying to teach it to students, as history is not necessarily the most popular subject, but sharing the contribution to adults as well. And not just Black British, but the fact the over 400 years of Indian history is often untold. And yes Bengali, Pakistani, Chinese, Polish and Vietnames to name but a few.
Why is this important?
British culture and history is always evolving. Vikings. 1066. Normans. Colonialism. Neo Liberalism. Whatever time or period there is a melting pot of what constitutes British history. It is not limited just to Celtic writing, invasions, warm beer, pasties and Morris Dancing as many would like to believe.
Part of the history of the British empire is not pretty. It does involve invasions, slavery and colonialism in order to have established that empire, but it also includes the narratives of abolition, enterprise and cultural infusions from many countries that were part of the empire and more recently would be seen as part of the commonwealth. Whatever your position on such a term.
For many of us who consider ourselves British, even if we don’t conform to some of the narrow confines promoted by extremist groups, or a tad underhand by the controllers of the fourth estate.
Which leads me on to values …
Prime Minister David Cameron in his conference speech that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has a “security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology”. The papers, and even some of the disgruntled Labour members who don’t like his leadership sided with this. It’s obvious as the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition that his case won’t be helped as he his an avowed republican, refused to sing the National Anthem and this week was reported as being too busy to swear in before the Queen for the Privvy Council.
There are those who could state that Cameron took many of Corbyn’s statement out of context. A cursory look at Corbyn’s voting stance on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, was not about the whole bill itself but the controversial elements such as glorification and detention without trial. One could argue about Cameron’s govt support of destabilising Libya, funding Syrian rebels and supporting Saudi Arabia with their horrendous human rights record as not in tune with British values, but that is a whole other blog.
I raised this point about Britain hating/loving to address what British values look like for many who consider themselves British like me.
- I am a republican and don’t agree with idea of a hierarchal monarchy.
- I have no interest in singing the national anthem for a number of reasons.
- I am cool with the armed forces, although I think they should be used more to maintain peace than going into war.
- I am all in favour the values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith although I disagree on how the four principles of British values were compiled and recommended to schools to promote it.
- I am patriotic, to the extent that I am proud of my country and much of what it stands for, but I won’t have my Britishnesss defined by being some nationalistic, flag waving, anthem singing, pole dancing (tic) citizen. It is a bit more nuanced than that. This is Britain not Airstrip One.
Yes, it can be annoying to be constantly asked “where I am from”, or “where I am really from”. It is annoying to hear that other Brits too who don’t necessarily appear to fit the biases of others, are asked the same question. It is a little daunting to see that across the country that I could be stopped more because of the colour of my skin, or the possibility that my children could have less of chance getting into a university (although that will never happen).
The thing is this, I am Made in Britain. I speak the Queen’s English (whatever that means) and am cognisant that people of all races will have some idea of what being British means to them. I am cool with that, even if others aren’t. As a global citizen, I recognise that boundaries are a small thing. I am educated enough and wise enough to realise that I can live almost anywhere in the world. That said I am incredibly proud to consider myself British, and on my terms.
I live in hope that there are many who share the same view.