A British Obama? No, We Can’t.


4:40 pm - January 20th 2009

by Unity    


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Can we have a ‘British Obama’?

Sorry, Sadiq. Sorry Sunder. In fact sorry everyone who’s got caught up in the excitement over America’s first Black president, but no we can’t have a British Obama…

…because this is not America, and we’re not Americans.

Don’t get me wrong here. It’ll be nice to see a little of the enthusiasm generated by Obama’s election rubbing off on Britain’s black communities and if that encourages a bit more meaningful political engagement from that direction then so much the better. But let’s not get too carried away at the same time.

While there is no intrinsic reason Britain shouldn’t, at some point, elect a Black or South Asian Prime Minister – we managed to have a Jewish Prime Minister (Disraeli) more than a century ago – if and when that day comes, the one thing we can absolutely certain of is that individual will not be a ‘British Obama’ and their election will carry neither the meaning or significance of Obama’s victory over George W Bush.

This is not America.

We do not have America’s political system and, for all that British elections have become increasingly ‘presidential’ in tone over the last forty years or so, we don’t view our own Prime Minister in anything like the same terms that America, and Americans, view their President.

We do not have America’s history. Our own civil war took place more than 350 years ago and for reasons entirely unrelated to the race or ethnicity. Identity may have had its part to play in the events of the 1640’s but the identity in question was religious and not racial in character and modern secular Britain has largely outgrown and left behind those old animosities despite the best efforts of some to bring them flooding back.

Yes, Britain had its part to play in slavery and the slave trade. Fortunes were made from the cruel exploitation of Black Africans and from the absorption of the Indian sub-continent into the British Empire. But it required a civil war to bring about an end to the American Confederacy’s addiction to the proceeds of exploitation, in Britain it was our own jurists who began to dismantle that edifice, more than 90 years before the American Civil War, leaving Parliament and its social reformers to mop up the remnants, ending the slave trade in 1808, slavery in the Empire outside Britain in 1833 and, finally, the use of indentured labour in 1920, this being the only abolitionist success in which America beat the UK to the punch.

And while racism is undeniably part of our own cultural history, it was never, since the end of slavery, pursued systematically as a matter of public policy as it was in the Southern United States. under the infamous ‘Jim Crow’ laws that formally mandated racial segregation and what passed for own, native, ‘civil rights movement’ was little more than a pale shadow and imitation of its American counterpart.

We will never have a ‘British Obama’ because the election of a Black or South Asian Prime Minister will never have quite same meaning to us as the election of Obama has to Americans.

I mention all this not to try and pour cold water on people’s enthusiasm for Obama but to make what i consider a very important but too easily overlooked point. If we are to have a ‘new politics of race’ in Britain then we need to plough our own furrow and do it our way, the British way, and not simply seek to emulate and imitate America.

The roots of at least some of worst and unnecessarily polarising aspects of the ‘old’ politics of race in Britain are, as Sadiq and Sunder rightly point out, to be found in past effort to emulate America, borrowing ideas, values and attitudes that make perfect sense when you see them rooted in American soil but which, when transplated to Britain, become about as helpful and desirable as Japanese Knotweed or the Colorado Beetle.

For me, by far the most irritating of these imported ‘Americanisms’, even if its not the most important, is the artificial creation of meaningless and unnecessary portmanteau ‘identities’; like ‘British Asian’, ‘British Muslim’ and ‘Black British’. As statistical devices used in the generation of population demographics they are relatively harmless terms but applied outside that realm they quickly turn into stereotypical caricatures of of much more complex and diverse reality, not to mention an unwelcome and unhelpful bastardisation of the British civic identity.

If you’re in the habit of referring to your own identity, or that of others, using these horrific portmanteau – and we all to it from time to time, if only to be polite and speak the language of what has become an increasingly perverse and distorted public narrative on race and ethnicity – then, please, don’t. Stop doing it now!

Terms like ‘British Asian’, ‘British Muslim’ and ‘Black British’ are no more a valid description of your identity than ‘British English’, ‘British Midlander’ or ‘British Atheist’ are of mine. That’s not how the British civic identity works; you’re British AND you’re a Muslim, or you’re South Asian, or you’re Black or whatever other words you might choose to describe your own sense of identity in a particular situation. The British civic identity is not like that of America because it developed and evolved to serve a very different purpose.

The American civic identity evolved out of the needs of a new and, to begin with, rather ill-defined and slight nebulous nation state, one that needed to forge a new identity and a new set of common values both as a way forward in the world and as a means of sloughing off those aspects of it citizens’ cultural history, the religious conflicts, wars and oppression of Europe, that its earliest citizens were seeking to leave behind.

Britain’s civic identity serves a very different purpose and developed for very different reasons. it came about not to forge a new common identity but create a bridge between several existing, well established, national and cultural identities, one that would provide those identities both a means of peaceful co-existence and a mechanism through which we could work together in a common cause, if and when such togetherness was required. We are British only when there is a need to be British; when we unite in the face of a common enemy or come together to foster and support a common interest. The rest of the time, we simply adopt the identity we need to adopt given the situation we find ourselves in at the time.

You might well see my dislike of these portmanteau ‘identities’ as mere nit-picking but it isn’t. It’s actually a very important feature of the British civic identity and a reflection of one of our most important and valuable cultural values, our collective belief that there is, and should, a very clear dividing line between the public and the private space. The fact that the British civic identity is only very loosely defined in terms of general principles, such as democracy, justice, fairness and, of course, personal liberty, is not a flaw in that identity, as some seem to think, but a feature and an extremely valuable one that that.

The British civic identity is something that exists and operates primarily, if not exclusively, in the public space. Its a loose collection of general values and social mores which serve to lubricate social interaction in the public sphere but, beyond that, what you do, what you believe and how you perceive your identity, is entirely up to you – you can be anything you want to be in private as long as you ‘play the game’ in public and make an effort to get along peacefully with everyone else.

This is, psychologically, extremely important. It helps to explain why, for all its flaws, we have one of the most tolerant societies in the world, one that is nowhere close to being as polarised down racial or ethnic lines as America or most of our European neighbours. It also explain why attempts to pin down a clear definition of ‘Britishness’ are routinely met with anything from outright disdain and opposition to simple indifference. If you can’t define precisely what ‘Britishness’ means then you also can’t get into the business of a characterising things as being ‘unBritish’ as an excuse/justification for persecuting people.

We are culturally disposed towards a parochial dislike of foreigners, but is some areas of Britain, ‘foreign’ can meaning nothing more threatening or alien that than ‘the next town’, ‘the next village’, or even ‘the next council estate’ and, perhaps, paradoxically, familiarity routinely breeds acceptance and tolerance rather than, as the aphorism suggests, contempt. If, as Napoleon suggested, we’re a nation of shopkeepers then, in Britain today we are, in part, a nation of South Asian shopkeepers a sizeable proportion of which are known to the local white community by names such as ‘John’, ‘Bill’, ‘Steve’ and even ‘Alf’. In the white, predominately working class areas in which I grew up and have lived pretty much all my life, the conferral of an Anglicised name on a local Asian shopkeeper, sometimes for no better reason than ‘well, he looks like a Steve to me!’, is not just a convenience for the locals, some of whom struggle to cope with some of the common multi-syllabic South Asian names, but a sign of acceptance into the local community. When ‘Balbinder’ turns, colloquially, into ‘Bill’ it sends a message to the whole community – this guy and his family are okay, they’re one of us!

The failure of the old politics of race in Britain is, to considerable extent, a failure to appreciate and understand the nature and character of the attitudes it was attempting, often badly, to address. It’s an alien construct that was crudely welded together by its adherents and supporters from a bunch of insubstantial borrowings from the American civil rights movement and glued together with some fairly hefty dollops of substandard Marxian class politics. It may have held up long enough to see some improvements and advances but its now falling apart, and has been for a good few years, a creating more problems, more divisions and a greater degree of racial polarisation than we’ve seen in Britain at any time since the 1960s.

However, where Sadiq and Sunder have got it wrong in their assessment is in the assertion that the antagonisms we have inherited from the US are those relating to ‘affirmative action’ and ‘political correctness’. Overblown though the adverse reactions to these phenomena may be in some quarters, particularly when egged on by the Daily Mail* (the ‘Guns & Ammo’ of lower-middle class class hatred) they are nevertheless rooted firmly in attitudes and values that are inherently British in origin, and not American. Anything we’re picking up from the States is simply an amplification of our own cultural attitudes and values, a reversal of the cultural process seen in the 1960’s when British musicians (The Beatles, Rolling Stones. Eric Clapton) took what was no more Black American music which rarely got any airplay on white radio stations and sold it back to a white American audience, becoming humongously rich and famous in the process.

* The irony here is, of course, that for all the Daily Mail routinely clothes itself in the flag and sell itself to its readers as a doughty defender of ‘British values’, its rabidly monocultural view of British society and its efforts to foist that view on the public domain. defining what it means to be British rigidly in its own terms is no less alien to Britain’s liberal cultural traditions than any genuinely foreign cultural artefact. It would seem, at least from where I’m sitting, that the Mail’s flirtation with fascism didn’t end in the 30’s, as some would suppose, it’s merely been sublimated into a slightly different but no less poisonous and rigidly authoritarian narrative.

The heart of any culturally driven ‘political correctness gone mad’ story, the best examples of which are to be found in the persistent ‘War on Christmas’ meme is, invariably predicated on a (usually fabricated) tale in which either the public or, less often, the private space has been invaded by a ‘foreign’ artefact or is otherwise being subjected to restrictions (by liberals, of course) so as allow space for foreign artefacts to enter and take over the public domain. Its the perceived encroachment on the public space in breach of long-standing consensual ‘agreements’ over shared values; i.e. the acceptance of Christmas as part of British culture. This is what that triggers the adverse reaction, even though few, if any, members of any of Britain’s non-white communities consider their own culture to be in any sense threatened by Christmas celebrations and many are happy to join in with the whole business of sending Christmas cards and buying presents for their kids, at a strictly secular level, if only because they don’t see why their own kids should miss out on any of the fun.

As for Britain’s cultural antipathy towards ‘affirmative action’, there’s a short passage from Orwell’s essay, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ that explains much about the foundations of that attitude:

Here one comes upon an all-important English trait: the respect for constitutionalism and legality, the belief in ‘the law’ as something above the State and above the individual, something which is cruel and stupid, of course, but at any rate incorruptible.

It is not that anyone imagines the law to be just. Everyone knows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. But no one accepts the implications of this, everyone takes it for granted that the law, such as it is, will be respected, and feels a sense of outrage when it is not. Remarks like ‘They can’t run me in; I haven’t done anything wrong’, or ‘They can’t do that; it’s against the law’, are part of the atmosphere of England.

For England, read Britain as the Scots, Welsh and Irish or no less inclined to that attitude than the English, but what’s important here is the belief in the ‘rule of law’ which resides above both the individual and the state. Culturally, the British could, and for a time did, tolerate a few of the milder forms of ‘positive discrimination’ in the period following the enactment of the Race Relations Act, a law what was seen to have been enacted to address and ‘stamp out’ a past injustice. Even so, the relatively mild discriminatory elements of RRA were only tolerated with a degree of unease, as an implicitly time-limited measure to redress a previously unfair balance, tiding us over as a society until the new law could take root and do the job it was intended for, but that largesse will stretch only so far because our cultural attitudes towards and relationship with the law.

In short, once we had a law in place that prohibited racial discrimination then, if you were unjustly prevented from making your way in the world according to your merits, you had recourse to the law as a means of obtaining redress. Everything else was down to you.

Sorry guys, but any time you start spitting out demographics and complaining about under-representation in this arena or that, then you’ve already lost the mainstream cultural argument because that sounds, to many people, like you’re trying to game the system for your own group’s political and economic advantage rather than seeking redress for a wrong that needs to be righted.

Whether you realise it or not, in taking that line you’re stepping, perceptually, outside the realms of race and the injustices associated with unfair and irrational discrimination and walking into an arena that most people understand and interpret, even today, primarily in terms of social class and the prevailing social heirarchy and Britain’s cultural views and attitudes on social class are nothing like so supportive as they can be when they see what they believe to be an unjust situation in another arena. That’s particularly true amongst conservatives for whom the belief that, all things considered, what people get out of life is pretty much what they deserved based on what they put in, is a fundamental article of faith – so when they see what looks to them like someone trying to buck the system, and that formative principle, the adverse reaction that follows is entirely predictable even if, looked at in another way, affirmative action can, arguably, be consider to be no more than a means of redressing a genuine historical injustice.

A new ‘politics of race’ would be an improvement over what we’ve got at present, but we need to go much further than that and re-evaluate the entire public narrative surrounding race and ethnicity, reframing the public debate in terms of ideas and values that are firmly rooted in British culture and the Britain’s diffuse but nevertheless still consensual civic identity. Somehow, I doubt very much that the endless repetition of arguments about demgraphic representation and the search for a free ride on Obama’s coat tails will do much to facilitate either.

To finish up, there’s another short passage describing the ‘English Genius’ from Orwell’s ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ that merits not just inclusion here, but very careful consideration as, more than anything else I can think of, its a valuable insight into the cultural mores and values that any viable ‘new politics of race’ needs to key into if its to make any kind of headway.

England is not the jewelled isle of Shakespeare’s much-quoted message, nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr Goebbels. More than either it resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has rich relations who have to be kow-towed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family. It has its private language and its common memories, and at the approach of an enemy it closes its ranks. A family with the wrong members in control – that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.

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'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments


What an excellent post. Where on earth were you when GB was banging on about needing a curriculum for Britishness?

Incidentally, it’s not a purely racial (as in black, brown, Muslim etc) matter you’re describing. The ousting of Kevin Pieterson was as much about his failure to understand what made English people tick as it was to do with dressing room histrionics or on-field results.

Unity, please, you have to giive me whatever that is you’re smoking!

I’ve never read so much rubbish before in my life – and on my birthday too!

You have to understand that just because you write on a liberal website, and most of your friends are liberal – and maybe you live in London and think that Britain is just one big hodgpodge of rainbow coloured people all loving each other, so its not going to be a a big deal if a black skinned British born person gets to be in charge..

Britain is the momma and pappa of America – whatever the racism there was imported by the British, and that includes South Africa too. I’d celebrate the day a black person is able to climb the governmental ladder above all the other lilly white old boys network candidates to earn the top job – and I’m not even black.

If you don’t know what Black British or Black Asian means – it means that I was born in Britain but my parents come from Africa or Asia and therefore my culture and ancestry comes from those far off places. Its like the French trying to pretend that everyone in a previous French colony is French – and then they wonder why there are riots in the ghetto’s where these new French people live. Clueless I tell you……

What an excellent post. Where on earth were you when GB was banging on about needing a curriculum for Britishness?

Making much the same arguments over at the Ministry

Lilliput:

Wow – how many missed points can one person get in such a short comment…

I’m too short of time to respond right now, but I will get back to you on this.

I will point out, however, that the Afrikaaners had just a little something to do with racism in South Africa and they we of Dutch extraction, not British.

There is real insight here into the nature of Brtish society. I am glad i read it.

I also believe that the use of the ‘Portmanteau indentities’ you discribe has been a factor in the rise in white use of English, Welsh and Scottish rather than British as terms to discribe themselves.
Because what on earth has a British Bangladeshi family who cannot speak English got in common with these long established residents? Why should they consider these incomers to be their countrymen? Increasingly they may not.

…because this is not America, and we’re not Americans.

BINGO!

And that goes for all imported American ideas!

Congratulations to President Obama – I am one of his unwavering supporters. I do hope he has an effect on the Liberal-left in the UK and others. To get them motivated would be a blessing.

But, as you said, they are American ideas and not British.

The portmanteau identities don’t make sense anywhere. A real life example from my own workplace in the US:

Person A was born in South Africa, and is white.
Person B was born in Britain, and is black.

Is person A African American?
Is person B African American?

Another weirdness is that people will identify as Irish American or German American but never English American.

“Britain is the momma and pappa of America – whatever the racism there was imported by the British, and that includes South Africa too.”

I’ll bite. This is historical garbage. The cultural history of racism in the English speaking world is directly tied up with two things – the development of black slavery in the Americas and scientific theories about ethnicity that followed (and which still have far too much resonance in my view). It’s not to say that there wasn’t a distrust of people who looked different or who came from other countries, but the apparatus of racist thought – purity of blood, racial superiority etc – doesn’t take hold until slavery is deeply ingrained, i.e. the mid-18th century. Even then, it was the people who operated that system in the colonies who held the whip hand (not to sat that they didn’t have supporters in Britain). British public opinion tended to reject the most virulent of the Caribbean and North American racists – Edward Long for example – and their views are generally seen to have actually aided the abolitionists back in Britain because they were seen as so extreme.

[troll]
Snappy stuff Unity I think I may agree with you .I don’t get it with the Red Hundals of the world . He is a British socialist . He wants us to be distant from America internationally and worlds away on tax and welfare .He represents the large state high tax solution on a European model and reject everything America stands for which is to protect the individual from the State . Yet he and others are going all teary about the sort of puffed up grandiloquence Americans seem to like but makes me laugh. Now I actually admire America , but they are, and have always been ,full of shit
Like your quotes , I re-read the Lion and Unicorn recently , here are some other quotes …This shows Orwell still looked to Russia as the ideal when he wrote it
……defeat in Flanders ….. utter rottenness of private capitalism. …….Before that the case against capitalism had never been proved. Russia, the only definitely Socialist country, was backward and far away. ….”
You will note Russia is definitely within his definition of socialism. .It is a salutatory reminder to us all to see what socialism actually means
“Nationalization of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.” and the consequence …“ From the moment that all productive goods have been declared the property of the State, the common people will feel, as they cannot feel now, that the State is themselves.” and as he remarks elsewhere , ‘’everyone works for the state’ .
……., but what of democracy , what of all the Englishness he tries to include in his idea? This is the utopia that awaits us…
“It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word. Political parties with different names will still exist, revolutionary sects will still be publishing their newspapers and making as little impression as ever. It will disestablish the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague reverence for the Christian moral code, and from time to time will refer to England as ‘a Christian Country “

There will not in fact be any real democracy at all except token “Different names “. Yes , he is certainly a socialist at this time , but Democratic , in form only. . It would have been impossible to admit f, at the end ,what he had seen . He saw it in Russia and he saw it in the power the state took in the war .1984 reeks of the growing evil state control brings and specifically to wartime Britain.: Orwell saw socialism as emerging from war not persuasion , and democracy as a comforting token to be retained like the monarchy. Seeing the results he turned on the left with devastating literary precision at the last

.He died a Conservative in all but name damning English socialism for all eternity

…because this is not America, and we’re not Americans.

bingo!

At least the LibDems have gone up 2 points.

Yes we can! 😉

Terms like ‘British Asian’, ‘British Muslim’ and ‘Black British’ are no more a valid description of your identity than ‘British English’, ‘British Midlander’ or ‘British Atheist’ are of mine

Erm, this completely misunderstand the point of those identities.

And I think, typically, you try and tackle too many things in a post so I don’t have the time to go through the second half but I will address this quickly.

The phrase British Asian, to me, is a cultural identity. It is not a political identity, though for some people it becomes that (in the way Muslim has now become a political identity as people have tried to politicise it, not just Muslims), and neither is it a civic identity.

America has a civic identity, a much stronger one than ours, despite the hyphenated identities.

The word British Asian is about belonging. It is a personal affirmation that I’m British, but I’m also Asian. I have multiple identities. The stupidest thing people can do in this debate is pretend that people have only one identity and they shouldn’t use different phrases.

In fact I call myself British Indian at times, A Sikh at other times, Buddhist, vegetarian, environmentalist and whatever identity I chose at the time.

None of these are mutually exclusive with my political identity as a Briton. That is because they’re not competing civic or political identities.

I agree that Britain has to forge its own path and yada yada. But there are similarities here that makes people dream about the ability to transcend racial barriers in a way Obama has done.

We have loons like newmania who pretend that everything is fine and hunky dory, if only the ethnics got rid of that chip on their shoulder – without ever acknowleding that deep within party structures, people are turned away for no other reason than the colour of their skin or their cultural background.

In many ways, the problem here is more intractable because we haven’t had the Jim Crow laws, so people think that racism is a thing of the past and no longer an issue. Whereas Americans cannot deny their history – in this country the Tories do their best to do that. After all, the woman they so revere – Margart Thatcher – did her best to ape National Front rhetoric. and that wasn’t so long ago.

Anyway, this is turning into a defensive rant. I love this country and can sometimes be more patriotic than many others who have lived here all their lives. But the debate on race is so lame here its unbelievable. Furthermore, the idea that you can do away with hyphenated identities is also silly. IF anything, I would like to see people attach even more hyphens to their identities so we can push forward the notion that everyone has multiple identities – not just brown or black people.

“push forward the notion that everyone has multiple identities – not just brown or black people.”

Well, it’s an interesting idea, and a very attractive one to me as a Very Boring White British Middle Class person (“West Country-Surreian-Londoner” anyone?). But I think a lot of people (i.e. me) just don’t have label-able enough ancestry and/or cultural connections to acquire hyphens. I just don’t go around thinking of myself in those terms (and therein, you could say, lies the problem).

Surely we need to somehow arrive at a system where it’s ok for some people to have hyphens and some people not and neither type to be discriminated against, because neither sort of universality is going to suit everyone. So, much as I hate to adhere to status quos, just a much better version of the current system.

But I think a lot of people (i.e. me) just don’t have label-able enough ancestry and/or cultural connections to acquire hyphens.

Well, here’s the fallacy for a start. Just because I’m brown doesn’t mean I have a fancy ancestry or identity.

You have a cultural identity, as do I. You feel connected to a geographical area? I do too (London, and parts of India). My parents brought me up with a religious background (that I respect, but not follow) and that may or may not also apply to you.

Why shouldn’t people express an interest or loyalty to their Englishness, or to this country’s rich history or its institutions or the political values that have defined it or just its cultural habits? You have a different history, as do I. I’m not any more exotic than a normal middle-class white person on the street. I’m just slightly different. All I want is an understanding of that difference – not blind hatred borne out of ignorance. And I certainly don’t want anyone trying (pathetically, because it won’t work) to try and suppress my identities. Sometimes I speak a different language at home. No one can stop me from doing that.

16. John Samuel

Ah, then are you a Midlander? That explains quite a bit. }>\

17. diogenes1960

i am intrigued – ois it actually possible to be both a Sikh and a Buddhist in any meaningful sense?

As I said here:

I hate religious labels – but I will say that while I identify with (the origins of) Sikhism, I actually prefer trying to follow (the ideas behind) Buddhism.

http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/2631

It is quite easily possible, providing you don’t follow the dogmatic versions they have both become today.

John – is that at me? I’m not, I’ve always been a Londoner.

19. British, Grammarian

I think Unity would prefer “British” and “Asian” to be separated with a comma, as they are independent adjectives, rather than one qualifying the other.

Alix, the day you are boring is the day I grow a second arse.

This multiple-identities approach is something Charles Kennedy always used to bang on about – in his own case, as a Highlander, a Scot, a Brit and a European. It’s an essentially liberal approach that embraces diversity, rather than trying to suppress it, but doesn’t encourage statements of identity to become rigid barriers between people.

U-nity, U-nity, U-nity, U-nity U U U U U U U..ooops, sorry

O-bama, O-bama, O-bama, O-bama, O O O O….!

A true Brit doesn’t have the need to say they are, we just keep calm and keep on with whatever else it was we were doing.

Just think, all this cultural and social prejudice will be forgotten when we each have a universally super-imposed digital identity: not a free man, but a number!

That is, until the kids in the schoolyard discover that “I’m an ‘AA’, you’re an ‘AB’. You’re behind me. Urrgh – kick ‘im!”

Um, a “British Obama”.

Relatively obscure politician with a legal background, comes out of nowhere while in opposition, good line in rhetoric and appealing to a broad church, very capable and intelligent wife, young family, wins on a landslide with the wishes of the nation having mobilised a massive national effort seeing record support levels (or membership) for his party.

We’ve already had him. Only it wasn’t a broad church, it was a Big Tent.

I just hope America’s Blair learns from our Obama’s mistakes and doesn’t repeat them.

In the meantime, yeah, what Unity said.

25. Conservative Cabbie

Unity

That was a great article, insightful and enjoyable.

Sunny

I don’t enjoy the same perspective as yourself on race in this country and so I respect your views on racial politics. However, couldn’t it be true that identity politics might do more harm than good for race relations in this country. Don’t terms like British Asian, British Muslim accentuate the differences between the cultures? I would much rather think of you as just British as it reflects our commanalities, once hyphens are injected into the relationship, it only leads to reflection on the differences. Race, culture, sex and sexuality are just things that are. We cannot have proper, substantive conversations about the important things when identity gets in the way.

A British Obama can happen, it just won’t be about race as Unity points out. It will be about class. It will be a person from the working or lower middle classes who doesn’t see the world through the rather clouded class envy lenses that Sally does unfortunately. It will be a person who shows the working classes that they do not need to think of themselves as put upon, that they are the masters of their own destiny and that achievement (in any walk of life) is a virtue and not a vice.

However, couldn’t it be true that identity politics might do more harm than good for race relations in this country. Don’t terms like British Asian, British Muslim accentuate the differences between the cultures? I would much rather think of you as just British as it reflects our commanalities, once hyphens are injected into the relationship, it only leads to reflection on the differences. Race, culture, sex and sexuality are just things that are. We cannot have proper, substantive conversations about the important things when identity gets in the way.

It’s interesting to see how people differ in seeing how people can interact with each other, based on some unifying equality view or a diversity point of view. I’m not sure that making everyone “the same” in terms of being singularly “British” is a likelihood, nor necessarily something that would bring about the cohesiveness needed. You’re not wrong that accentuating differences can form barriers…but those are natural barriers that I would argue need to be in place initially so that the healthy practice of removing them can take place. Smothering them in some enveloping equality term doesn’t solve any underlying prejudices after all.

Surely for identity to not get in the way our identities have to be out there and prevalent and, in terms of the substantive conversations, irrelevant because of that?

Thanks for such a detailed and closely argued critique. I think brings out some important issues for discussion. (Obviously, I speak for myself here, and not jointly for myself and Sadiq: We’ve worked fairly closely over the last 18 months: we agree on some major points, but probably have different views on important issues too).

Some points
* I agree that Britain and America are different – historically and sociallly, as well as having different political systems. We tried to say some of that. However, of course Obama will affect UK debates about race and politics more broadly, despite those differences.
* I have an equal enthusiasm for Orwell, and The Lion and The Unicorn in particular.
* I think the point of a new politics of race is to move away from the way in which ‘identity politics’ can polarise, and particularly create a ‘politics of competitive grievance’ or ‘most oppressed’ competition (which breaks the coalitions the left needs, and is a useful resource for the right, which often wins when it can frame politics to make culture and identity more salient than socio-economic issues). That is what Sunny was doing with his New Generation Network manifesto a while ago, and so I was pleased to be involved in that.

So those are all areas where I think I agree with the thrust of some of what you argue. Some points of disagreement, or to dig deeper into this.

Do we need a ‘politics of race’ at all? My sense is that the thrust of your argument is to say ‘no’ or that we must tread very carefully in articulating one. Though I have been charged with arguing for a post-racial politics along those lines (this was Woolley of Operation Black Vote’s argument about my position in Saturday’s debate) I would not agree. I do want a politics which makes race less determining of who we are and what we can achieve. I think we still need a poltiical account of racial disadvantage, racism and inequality to do that, where it can be shown that there are strong systematic disadvantages, but that this will be different because society has changed, which is one reason why I want this to operate from a common frame of reference across class, race, gender and other areas . I would use “fair chances and no unfair barriers” as a foundation, or Tawney’s idea of equality as autonomy/flourishing and removing the barriers to that which arise not from individual differences but from the organisation of society.

I have a disagreement on the role of race in understanding inequality, and a perhaps smaller one on identity.

I think the weakest point of your argument is to assert “any time you start spitting out demographics and complaining about under-representation in this arena or that, then you’ve already lost the mainstream cultural argument”. Here you seem to be ruling out ‘fairness’ claims made with evidence about systematic racial disadvantage, because they are about race. Why? I think this has to be a question of evidence, not (as it too often is – from left or right in this debate – anecdote and assertion).

It is clear to me from the evidence that there is now a complex pattern of advantage and disadvantage, so that the old language of ‘majority’ and ‘ethnic minority’ experiences explains much much less than it did, and both arguments and strategies to address disadvantage need to be much more nuanced.

You go much further, and throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think it is also clear there are inequalities around race and gender which can’t be reduced to class. You seem to come close to denying (generally? In Britain in 2009?) this. I say we should continue to investigate that. I don’t see that as “gaming” the system on behalf of “my” group (whoever they are). Can’t I say the same about gender? Wasn’t the Race Relations Legislation passed by an all white parliament? I make the claim as a general principle for the left in pursuing egalitarian values.

My evidence on parliamentary selections supports the optimists: there is a much diminishing, and disappearing, racial disadvantage (and so I am sure the primary frame must now be class, though gender remains a higher barrier to fair chances than race, despite some ‘positive’ measures in that area). In other areas (eg mental health, prisons) systematic disadvantage in terms of race, not reducible to socio-economic, remains strong. I take the point that – where there is such evidence – one needs an effective strategy and coalitions to address this. You seem to say this won’t be possible if race is mentioned. I don’t accept that. It depends how it is done. (The argument of Obama’s Philadelphia speech on this point of strategy is, I think, very much translatable to the UK, where the polarisation problem has similarities, though the history and issues it features around are different).

You seem to me here much too close to the French position, which I think fails in terms of its practical application to achieve its stated goals of liberty, equality, integration and citizenship, though they are fine goals. Let me be clear, I have been a progressive critic of multiculturalism since at least 2000.I have made the argument that multiculturalism did not value integration enough. But continental champions of integration can not claim anything like as good a practical record of effective integration which British multiculturalism, for all of its shortcomings, did achieve. Central to the French failure is the refusal (on integrationist grounds) to ever find out what the facts are about structural disadvantage on grounds of race.

The French would never do something like this – an excellent Cabinet Office study on the complexity of ethnic minority experience in the labour market, which shows a complex and nuanced picture but clear evidence of ethnic penalties. It seems to me that you would not either. In that case, we will not have an effective politics of social justice. http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/cabinetoffice/strategy/assets/ethnic_minorities.pdf

I think I am something between 50% and 75% with you on hyphenated Britishnesses. But I would enter an important caveat. When the Bhikhu Parekh Runnymede Report came out (and got attacked heavily from the right), I thought and wrote at the time that its account of Britishness was fatally flawed. And I didn’t like its advocacy of dual and hyphenated identities as an improvement or possible salvaging of ‘British’ if as recommended we collectively adopted that as a NORM. For me, it seemed to carry too much of a ‘not really/entirely’ qualification, and didn’t seem to be being equally applied to the majority. I also don’t think the US civil rights ‘black’ as a uniting identity ever had particular resonance in the UK, and especially not in my generation. (I don’t and can’t self-identify as ‘black’: it would seem a bit Ali G to our generation!).

Caveat: But I don’t see the case for determining rules on how people choose to describe their personal sense of identity, which you suggest you might want to. That is because I take the liberal view of autonomy that it should be for people to define and describe their sense of identity for themselves. So I have no objection to black British, British Asian, more English than British, Scottish and British equally, etc where that works for people, as long as the content of British citizenship/identity is sufficiently clear for us to share a political society effectively. And I suspect I could well have a different personal approach if I had a different ethnic background: I don’t identify as ‘black British’, but I can easily imagine that I might do so if I were of Afro-Caribbean background, while ‘mixed race British’ or half-Asian British or whatever don’t do anything useful for me).

Our collective interest (and the legitimate interest of the state) is in the content and allegiance to the common citizenship and democratic institutions we share: the ‘ties that bind’, and that agreed rules are observed. I hear your view that these hyphenated identities could be a barrier to that, but it is also the case that they could be a resource for it. (Insisting they are left at the door when engaging as citizens could repel, or disadvantage some from the sphere of democratic citizenship). As all British identities are inherently plural, is there so much new here?

I agree with some of what you say about Britishness though it is contested, as you say, and I agree it is rather misunderstood by the right. Like you, I also think it has particular progressive value and potential (compared to many ‘national’ identities) because it is a civic, political and inherently plural multinational identity. That also means that notions of what Britishness is about reflect a social, cultural and political consensus at any one time. Yes, it has never been tightly defined or codified, but I am sceptical of the idea (which I think you rely on heavily) that its essence is its lack of definition.

I just hope America’s Blair learns from our Obama’s mistakes and doesn’t repeat them.

Except Obama has brains…. and he isn’t about to play second fiddle to anyone. C’mon, this comparison really is fatuous – Obama has already readied the ground for very vast changes – if they follow through it will be massive, not just for the US for the world. What vast agenda did Tony Blair have?

Conservative Cabbie – the point of my input wasn’t to say a British Obama can come out of racial issues. That is an entirely separate discussion to have… I think Obama skilfully navigated through racial politics and if you read his book Dreams from My Father, and on his Chicago politics background – you’ll realise that race politics was the cornerstone of his upbringing. He transcended that in a way I agreed with… but that is a separate issue to what Unity is saying.

Don’t terms like British Asian, British Muslim accentuate the differences between the cultures? I would much rather think of you as just British as it reflects our commanalities

Well – it depends on how you want to have a discussion really, this is very simplistic. Are you going to say that a gay person should forget that their world-view may have been affected by their sexuality and their experiences in teenage years trying to deal with it? (Not saying this applies to all, but it does apply).

Now, I’m not obsessed by my Asian identity. I can have perfectly interesting discussions with you on a range of issues from civil liberties, the environment, literature (I loved Nancy Drew!) and television without bringing in that identity.

But where that identity is relevant – say if you have a discussion about religion and want to officially make Christianity the official religion while discriminating against people of other faiths, then that identity crops up.

Or, to be more relevant to our current problems – say you had a section of the media that constantly tried to imply that all Muslims were potential terrorists. Then, that identity becomes politicised and comes to the fore.

I know gay Muslims who have said they never cared about religion until after 7/7 and then suddenly became aware of their own religious identity. Similarly – if a black kid is picked on by the police because he’s black (or abnormally harassed by them), then he’s not going to suddenly forget he’s black when talking about his experiences as a Briton. That line of thinking is not only idealistic – its absurd.

If you want to have a discussion about our commonalities – first you have to figure out why you want that discussion, and to what end. THEN people are more aware of how their multiple identities come into play. You can’t resolve the West Lothian without people taking into account their English, Scottish, Irish identities can you? Same applies here.

29. Conservative Cabbie

“Smothering them in some enveloping equality term doesn’t solve any underlying prejudices after all.”

That is a long way from my intent. My point was that I don’t see a person’s colour, culture, sexuality as an issue in any way. I believe that if we are to function in a positive way, we need to treat people as individuals on their merits or demerits and not treat them differently (negatively or positively) because they are of a certain type.

What will solve “underlying prejudices” is being part of the norm. I remember the race riots of the eighties and the vile NF skinheads. But today, Black British is so much more accepted. This may be purely because we are 20-30 years more advanced or it may because of the wonderful progressive policies of New Labour (yes that was sarcasm). But I don’t believe so. I think it’s because of people like the footballer Ian Wright. A person would have to be KKK level racist not to look at Ian Wright and see him as anything other than British. It’s because of the current fashion for black culture in music, comedy and film. And it’s because black culture is celebrated within a British context. The guy who promoted Reggae Reggae sauce was successful because he and his product represented a synergy of West Indian and British humour.

I’m not saying that Black/White relations in the U.K. are perfect or that the West Indian population don’t experience racism anymore, I’m not that naive, but I doubt you will find anyone who hasn’t seen a dramatic improvement. As a conservative, I believe that time will eventually heal all wounds. Sure, occassionally a liberal kick up the backside is required but progression is best achieved when people come to it voluntarily and willingly, not when politics of identity is forced upon us and the hyphenating of our differences is a mild form of that.

30. Conservative Cabbie

Sunny

“If you want to have a discussion about our commonalities ”

I don’t, but I don’t see the benefit of focusing on our involuntary differences either. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t feel pride in their cultural heritage or that Stepford Britishness is what is required, I believe that Britain benefits hugely from a mixing of cultures.

You call my line of thinking absurd. Really? It’s novel to be a non-racist conservative on a liberal blog and be criticised for that. Is it just that I’m not feeding into your prejudices? Because unfortunately the tone of your last comment to me speaks loudly of your anti-right prejudices. Who has wanted to make Christianity an official religion? Which legitimate media organisation thinks all muslims are terrorists? Those are absurd comments, not the view that identity politics might actually be detrimental to race relations.

“If you want to have a discussion about our commonalities – first you have to figure out why you want that discussion, and to what end”

I’m sorry, but this is claptrap. Typical liberal overthinking. -Ism’s will only be eradicated when people realise that despite differences in the colour of skin or in the Gods we worship or in our sexual predilections, that at the root, we are the same. A simple answer no doubt, doesn’t make it wrong though.

You call my line of thinking absurd. Really? It’s novel to be a non-racist conservative on a liberal blog and be criticised for that.

I’m not criticising you for being a non-racist conservative – my comment was more aimed at Unity and his idealistic view that multiple identities can be forgotten if we’re having a discussion about our identity.

Who has wanted to make Christianity an official religion? Which legitimate media organisation thinks all muslims are terrorists? Those are absurd comments, not the view that identity politics might actually be detrimental to race relations.

I was giving you examples of how the environment makes certain identities more relevant than others. Since 9/11 and 7/7, more Muslims have felt the need to defend or explore their Muslim identity precisely because there has been such media hysteria and discussion of it.

Look, identity politics has always been at the heart of Britain – earlier it was an obsession with Jews, Catholics, people of different class or region. Would you seriously say, in a discussion about economic opportunities (for example) to a working class person that they should ignore their background when they’re being compared to an upper-class person who has had a different lifestyle?

Typical liberal overthinking. -Ism’s will only be eradicated when people realise that despite differences in the colour of skin or in the Gods we worship or in our sexual predilections, that at the root, we are the same. A simple answer no doubt, doesn’t make it wrong though.

Its not claptrap – its the right answer. But we’re arguing for different things.

My original point was not about prejudice – but about the fact that I have cultural baggage that is different to yours. That doesn’t need to construct artificial barriers… because I don’t see your English roots (assuming you’re English) as a barrier to having a discussion with me any more than I see my Indian roots as a barrier to you communicating with me. Here, we’re merely talking about communication and every day living. We’re talking about lived experiences – with you as an Englishman with a conservative outlook (which itself is a form of identity) who drives a cab, and me as someone who eats different kinds of food at home and listens to somewhat different music at other times (unless you’re a big fan of Bhangra, in which case I apologise 🙂 ).

The guy who promoted Reggae Reggae sauce was successful because he and his product represented a synergy of West Indian and British humour.

And that’s precisely my point. West Indian culture isn’t seen as threatening – and black British culture is seen as part of British culture. What I’m saying is – the same goes for British Asian culture. Which is why I don’t see it as threatening or negating my British identity. If Ian Wright called himself black British – would you think he was any less British?

On the other hand, if you’re talking purely about eradicating racial prejudice, which is rather different to talking about how we live our lives as citizens, then I accept that communal politics can pose a problem.

then you can have people who emphasise racial or cultural differences for political gain. I’m against that. But in this context, its also important to state that you cannot hope a black person will forget about the racism they face and be part of the rainbow coalition unless they stop facing that prejudice.

Otherwise, what you’re doing is asking that person to forget about the fact they’re black, and yet in other contexts they’re reminded every day (by the police maybe) that they’re black and therefore ‘troublesome’. Ergo, you can’t eradicate people’s racial identities unless they are all treated equally first.

I’m trying to separate out lived multiculturalism (the first part) from political/state multiculturalism – if that makes any sense.

Unity is right.

Everyone must get the fuck over themselves and merge.

33. Conservative Cabbie

Sunny

I agree largly with what you are saying. As an acknowledgement of a cultural heritage, hyphenation is absolutely fine providing:

1. The hyphenation isn’t used as an expression of superiority

2. or conversely, the hyphenation isn’t used as an expression of a perceived (self or otherwise) victimhood.

I take your point that non-whites, gays and women experience life differently to a straight white male from a stable background like myself and that many of them will carry a certain amount of baggage as result. The point I have tried to make poorly is that wrapping oneself in identity as a defence mechanism or as a cry for help will not solve the problem no matter how understandable it is. MLK and Rosa Parks didn’t seek victimhood, they didn’t retreat into self-imposed ghettos and unlike some of their compatriots (in name only) didn’t resort to becoming more militant. They challenged prejudice head on, shaming a nation and winning one of the greatest victories in world history.

When MLK calls himself an African-American, it is a badge of honour. When Malcolm X or Stokely Carmichael do the same, it is a call to arms for both sides of the racial divide. That might be a little glib, but hopefully emphasises my point.

When considering race; class is often ignored. Obama’s parents were professional middle class. Obama’s white grandparents sent him to a private school. David Lammy was sent to a choral school , Kings School, Peterborough: not an inner city comprehensive. Until we have comprehensives which can instill the educational standards, confidence and the savoir faire of public and grammar schools; then reducing gulf between classes will be limited.

Shutting down faith schools would help.

‘We have loons like newmania who pretend that everything is fine and hunky dory, if only the ethnics got rid of that chip on their shoulder – without ever acknowleding that deep within party structures, people are turned away for no other reason than the colour of their skin or their cultural background.’

……in this country the Tories do their best to do that. After all, the woman they so revere – Margart Thatcher – did her best to ape National Front rhetoric. and that wasn’t so long ago.

I do not say “ the ethnics “ because I do not want to frame any discussion I terms of an largely illusory distinction .It implies a homogenous constituency which is a lie . Racism in this country is practiced by Asians towards Blacks far more than in any other context so sort your own house out before you continue your long whine!
The chief beneficiaries of skin pigment quotas are middleclass Asian and Indian Lawyers and the like whose connection to the discriminated against population is less close than mine. I actually have non white , non privileged children. They do not
You say there are ‘deep Party structures but the Conservative Party leaps on any black or Asian like a starving man on a juicy pie only requiring they can faintly string a sentence together . Its actually quite pathetic That there are numerous , mostly class , barriers is obviously true but irrelevant here . Why not read your own blog on this subject.
On the racism of Margaret Thatcher you are throwing around groundless slurs as usual . In Ali Rattanis `s almost psychotically charged witch hunt ( Racism an Introduction) , he comes up with this as the nadir of her crimes .

“ If we carry on as we are , by the end of the century there would be 4,000,000 people of the New Commonwealth here . Now that is an awful lot and I think people are afraid that this country might be swamped by people of a different culture . As you know the British character has done so much for democracy and so much for the world that if there is a fear it will be swamped people will be rather hostile to t those coming in “ He also refer to her us if the phrase “ An island Race “ In the context of the Falklands

I think this is as close as she ever came to racism so I am being far fairer to you than you are to me or you deserve . Mr. Rattansi`s divining rod flicks at “ The New Commonwealth “ as a code for the Black and brown nations .The language is insensitive by the fanatically police standards we endure today because it draws a line between white and non white nations . That’s your case , probably a better one than you actually have
Who are those white nations though ? Australia ? New Zealand? We were at that time at the end of a mass emigration from England to both as the skilled working classes were forced out of the country by the post war Labour governments who eroded their differentials. The cultural closeness between the countries obviously bears no comparison and .Economic migration was in any case taking people the other way so for the Old Common Wealth the question does not arise at all.. What on earth could she say that would satisfy people like that
It was Attlee’s Labour Government that tried to stop the consequences of the Empire Windrush . It was Margaret Hodge who complained about immigrants creeping up the housing list . It is Hazel Blears who consistently placates the BNP constituency , it is Gordon Brown who bangs on about Britishness and Labour who conducted a quite disgraceful racist campaign in Crewe which you no doubt applauded because they were only Poles .
Nothing will ever be perfect but prejudice and judgement arc always going to be messy. Thats why Black communities favour profiling. Overall it is hugely over blown and usually by people trying to make a living out of it or using misplaced bleeding heart guilt to attack the ethnically English and gainsay their right to any voice in deciding what sort of country this is going to be .
You British Asian nonsense is hanging from Sky Hooks , the word British means nor more than a set of entitlements it used to mean greater England . People now call themselves English. Your wish for entitlement is not being questioned . This has little to do with a country

The portmanteau identities don’t make sense anywhere.

I don’t think British-Asian etc. are portmanteaus anyway. Brisian, might be.

The term “Portmanteau Identity” is all the rage in Brussels and Strasbourg (or as I like to say, Brusbourg), but it rather abuses a word with beautiful original meaning.

38. Ryan Stephenson

My wife is Asian but would go nuts if you described her as Asian or British-Asian in a political context. She is and considers herself to be British. She only refers to the term “Asian” to describe the shape of her nose and the level of melotonin in her skin. Describing her as British Asian would seem to her to be as daft as describing her as British Coronation Street Fan in a political context. From her perspective, therefore, British Asian refers to people that live in Britain but dislike the prevailing culture so much that they prefer to adhere in as many respects as possible to the culture of the origins – thus presumably indicating that if they want no part of prevailing culture then prevailing culture need not take their view into consideration. The term British Muslim is a justifiable term in a politcial context, as would be British Catholic or British Atheist. It informs others of how ones political views are focussed. But the term British Asian only implies that Sunny thinks the shape of his nose and melotonin levels are crucial to his political views, which is about as bizarre as the BNP taking a similar view from a white perspective – i.e. it opens the very same trap that such things are important.

Perhaps James “Unity is right. Everyone must get the fuck over themselves and merge” could set out the value he places on freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of belief (and non-belief) as part of this particular diktat about how people should understand their identities.

I am very much in favour of integration, and of a shared citizenship and civic identity that sets the rules (and would also prefer one which retains, indeed strengthens, its emotional, historical and cultural resonance across our society). One crucial issue is ‘how much integration do we need?’ – what are the necessary demands of a common citizenship (including if it is to provide the foundations for and enable liberal autonomy), and what are its limits (so it does not instead limit it)?

The idea that ‘black British’ or ‘British Asian’ is an unacceptable cultural identity because it undermines the civic sphere strikes me as bizarre (even though they aren’t terms I particularly value personally). If, for example, many Welsh people may think of themselves primarily as ‘Welsh and British’ rather than ‘Welsh British’ I can’t see that it follows that everybody follows similar grammatical formulations, to prevent the sky from falling. It is an important matter of practical politics that the expression which is given to an idea of what being a ‘British Muslim’ entails could be a positive one, when there is an important need to challenge and derail a rejectionist politics which claims the two are mutually exclusive.

The idea that ‘black British’ or ‘British Asian’ is an unacceptable cultural identity because it undermines the civic sphere strikes me as bizarre (even though they aren’t terms I particularly value personally). If, for example, many Welsh people may

As a legal or geographical concept its fine it does not infer any membership of a shared cultural or communal identity. ‘British’ , always a weak idenity was greater England when it meant anything .It means very little to anyone now since the UK was split up by Labour to forestall nascent nationalism . After years of state sponsored multiculturalism as there is no identity which it is allowable for the English to have officially , most think of themselves as English if anything .
British is left as a mark of possession of a set of entitlements and a historical oddity
What a British Muslim entails then is asking a question about a concept which has already been discarded . At present its probably a better description to say the Eng,ish are the largest ethnic group living in England a country they share with others with more or less mutual tolerance . There is enormous resistance to continued mass immigration however which shows those limits are stretched as this predoiminance is threatened and its nature for the first time is under attack. AS Britains it was only an outer skirmish, if you wish to cnange what English means then you are attacking the real identity whithin to which a sense of ownership pertains ( Rightly in my view)

Sunder – when I start advocating state power enforcing my suggestion, you’ll start having a point.

‘I think Unity would prefer “British” and “Asian” to be separated with a comma, as they are independent adjectives, rather than one qualifying the other.’

For true accuracy, shouldn’t it be “British comma British Asian”? Because unlike say British Welsh, British Asian does needs the Brit part to distinguish it from the other Asian cultures, subcultures and regions.

Analogy time: Britpop is different from pop that happens to come from Britain. It’s a somewhat distinctive genre, there is certainly British pop that is not Britpop. But the true test if it really meaningfully exists, is a useful word, is this: could you find some American group playing Britpop?

Maybe LCD Soundsystem would count.

So question is, is there such a thing as an American, Indian or wherever restaurant serving British Asian food, or club playing British Asian music? Is such a thing imaginable?

“She only refers to the term “Asian” to describe the shape of her nose and the level of melotonin in her skin.”

Ryan, may I ask what generation she is eg first generation British born or second etc because I think it has a huge impact on the person if their parents and grandparents are born overseas and have a completely different culture and way of life. If she was indeed first or second generation, I would call her more Asian then British because her parents and grandparents have parented her in that culture?

I am just refering to the Asian people in Britain that I have met.

44. Alisdair Cameron

Sunder, posted this on your thread (which seemed to go way off on a tangent)
Slightly bizarre piece, isn’t it?
Either
a) you go for ‘global’, all-round fairness, taking note of all of race, gender, sexuality, class, disability etc etc
or
b) you focus on those (identity) elements separately.

What this article appears to try and do is to recognise that there is more sense in approach a), as it’s less divisive (less pitching of identity groups against each other), and because none of those factors of race,class,gender,etc etc exist in isolation from each other. Good: an overall, overarching approach definitely has its merits
BUT
the authors then dub it “politics of race”, in effect subsuming all other inequalities into the race one, in other words implying a divisive hierarchy of discrimination. Such a hierarchy exists at the moment, and is encouraged by some who encourage it and its divisons as it allows them them to empire-build/reign over their little fiefdoms, while corroding wider society, by fragmenting it.

[Oh, Obama is black. Hurray. It’s nonsense to suggest he’s not male, not relatively privileged, not straight, not ‘able-bodied’,not an acceptable age, not free from any mental health problems etc. His message has been of hope, notably taking that beyond race, being inclusive, not taking all areas of discrimination and putting them in a box marked race]
I can kinda see where you’re coming from, but isn’t your term ‘politics of race’ a bit of a misnomer: it’s more a politics of fairness (as with your conference…!), encompassing race (war being won, I’d say), gender (battle ongoing, with some casualties from ‘friendly fire’ from the more separatist feminists), disability (battle very far from won, especially with mental health), ageism (again battle far from won) etc.

There will be no equivalent of Obama in Britain until the legal institutions here become as colour-blind as those in the States who gave Obama his ladder to success.

AlisdairCameron,

Yes, it is that politics of fairness argument, providing a common frame of reference for that. But that requires an account of race, gender, class, etc. It also then needs to engage in a discussion/argument with those engaged in race politics, feminism, gay rights, disability advocacy, etc. The claim is that we need a ‘race politics’, and feminism, etc which are interested in forging these broader coalitions and alliances (and should be wary of one which would undermine them).

It is interesting that I am to some extent on the ‘right’ on many of these discussions (as is Sunny) within the broader liberal-left, and within race politics (eg against minority shortlists, etc), but on LC we end up mostly defending the same position from challenges which are mostly from our right, though still from liberal perspectives, who think we have left too much from the old race politics in.

The original piece was trying to see – vis Obama’s philadelphia speech – that such an approach does not mean being post-racial in the sense of having no account of race at all.

And failing to articulate that clearly might be a way to fail to lose the argument, because it allows another version of race identity politics to say ‘this is the only way’ or ‘if you move forward/move on, you are leaving the motivation to address racism/discrimination’.

Sunny

Except Obama has brains….

You think Blair doesn’t? One of the most succesfull British PMs of the last 100 years, and most succesfull Labour PM ever? Blair is and was a very smart cookie. I disagreed with a lot of his policy decisions once in office, but I respect his ability.

and he isn’t about to play second fiddle to anyone.

Some people think being a junior partner in an alliance requires doing the best you can on stuff—I think he was wrong to follow Bush as much as he did, but a “British Obama” would find it very hard to not be a junior partner to America, whereas Obama doesn’t have that issue.

C’mon, this comparison really is fatuous –

No, it really really isn’t. I like Obama a lot, you know this.

But I liked Blair a lot as well. I’m hoping Obama doesn’t make the same mistakes once in office, but while I understand his choice of Warren for the invocation, it’s also a very Blair/Clinton thing to do, isn’t it?

Obama has already readied the ground for very vast changes – if they follow through it will be massive, not just for the US for the world. What vast agenda did Tony Blair have?

Is your memory failing you? The 1997 manifesto was described as one of the most constitutionally radical agendas any British PM was elected to. Combine the constitutional stuff like devolution (which stalled before it got going in England, thanks Two Jags) and FOI/HRA with things like the New Deal and you have a very very liberal and radical agenda.

That he went back on a lot of promises, failed to implement more, and then tacked from the liberal centre ground to the authoritarian centre ground while in office doesn’t stop him having come to office on a very similar wave of enthusiasm to that which Obama has now.

Sure, it’s not the same, the internet has replaced and supplemented the organisational structure that the massive Labour membership spike he recruited and used, but the parallels are there.

I really hope Obama won’t turn out like Blair. But it’s not fatuous to warn of the potential parallels.

Mat – ok, I guess we’ll have to wait and see how he goes to make judgements. Though, we’re broadly agreed he needs to be quite radical on a lot of issues.

A few quick hints.

Sunder – when I start advocating state power enforcing my suggestion, you’ll start having a point.

James, when you start telling us what people are supposed to merge into, and why, then you might have a point too.

Conservative Cabbie:
1. The hyphenation isn’t used as an expression of superiority

2. or conversely, the hyphenation isn’t used as an expression of a perceived (self or otherwise) victimhood.

Agreed on both – although it doesn’t require a hyphenated identity to appropriate victimhood. Most of the right-wing, especially who perpetually cry about the liberal bias of everyone (especially the BBC), are also whingers and play the victim card. If you listen hard enough to many on the right – white middle class men are the most oppressed of all, especially from Muslim women who wear the face veil.

I wrote something on this a while ago:
http://www.asiansinmedia.org/news/article.php/television/808

When MLK calls himself an African-American, it is a badge of honour. When Malcolm X or Stokely Carmichael do the same, it is a call to arms for both sides of the racial divide. That might be a little glib, but hopefully emphasises my point.

Yes I do. I prefer the MLK model. But its important to understand why Malcolm X was popular – we didn’t care about white people because he thought white people didn’t care for black people (Israel, we don’t care for world opinion etc). He was all about black empowerment, which he thought was absolutely necessary if black people were going to demand equal rights as human beings. Its a different narrative, but one I cannot reject entirely because of the situation African Americans were in at the time.

Ryan Stephenson: My wife is Asian but would go nuts if you described her as Asian or British-Asian in a political context

And that’s fine – I have no problems with that, though its ignorant of her to assume that everyone who calls themselves British Asian reject the whole ‘British’ side of things. I never said this experience applied to everyone – but I’m explaining why the terms remain popular among people who may be well integrated middle-class members of society.

James, when you start telling us what people are supposed to merge into, and why, then you might have a point too.

Each other.

The reason being the process serving as a natural extension of prejudice dissolution. The more we mingle the harder it will become to act in a bigoted fashion, and it is only obedient adherence to the senseless divisions cast up by segregationists of varying degrees of noxiousness that would sustain these dichotomies.

I imagine that religion will be a major blockade to the process (I think here of the pamphlets condemning intermarriage I used to read in my local Catholic Church, the Jewish websites I’ve come across that compare contemporary assimilation to the Holocaust, the practice of Muslim honour killings, I could go on…) and culture is unquestionably something that needs some more consideration (the model of the Zoroastrians begging entry to India, who said that they would become “As honey into milk” seems like a fine model, though) but the increase in the number of mixed race children is promising. It’s a little too early to say, but there’s the possibility that within a few hundred years at least areas such as London, Rotterdam&Amsterdam & the like will be a pleasing blend of the racially indistinguishable where racism has become not only culturally disapproved of but practically impossible.

As I said, state power shouldn’t get involved in this process (if only because I can’t think of how it could possibly promote it properly…), but I think we can be agreed that that would be a rather wonderful outcome? The ultimate fulfilment of “Race doesn’t matter” rhetoric?

50. Alisdair Cameron

Thanks for clarifying on that Sunder, and if as it seems you mean that there should still be those for whom fighting for racial equality is no. 1 priority, but that they shouldn’t view th world solely through the prism of race, then I agree: equally other folk should abandon looking at the notion of fairness only through their particular prism, be that gender, sexuality, disability etc.All subsets of the politics of fairness (race, gender sexuality etc) must keep up to speed with the other subsets might be one way of expressing my feelings on this, thereby ensuring that the politics of gender is compatible with the politics of race, with the politics of disability etc, even if it means dropping some long-held attitudes along the way.The danger of only having a partial view is that you have blind spots, ones which can also occur within one’s own field.
Let me throw another, to my eyes significant factor into things: Localism, and illustrate it (and my earlier points about blind spots even within a particular field.
Some may know I work in mental health, and am in the Nth east of England. Now there’s been a national programme for delivering race equality (DRE) for mental health for q. some time now, with specialist BME mental health community development workers in many many localities as a consequence..
Sadly in some respects it’s fallen flat, thanks to a London-centric focus and umpteen edicts and targets from the doH and Whitehall. We recently had some bods up from London berating the system in our area for falling down on some DRE measures. The BME community workers were mightily annoyed by the supercilious manner of the visitors. Why? Because they, tye visitors were working on London-shaped metrics, which postulate a high Afro-Caribbean population, and so assume psychosis (often overdiagnosed in such a population) to be the most pressing concern for BME service users. Now in the North east the Afro-Caribbean population is pretty damn small: there is a larger African population than Afro-Caribbean, a sizeable Indian pop, a biggish Pakistani one, middling Bangladeshi, a large and century-old Somali community near the coast, a big Orthodox Jewish community, esp around Gateshead, a really sizeable Chinese population, plus a decent Vietnamese one to boot..Oh, and a large travelling community, then there’s the Eastern Europeans [folk are often surprised at the diversity in the Nth east:the population is diverse, just the demographic doesn’t mirror the make-up of London]. Anyhow, our local BME workers, at the coal face as it were stressed that the major issues their clients were facing were clinical depression (Indian subcontinent background) gambling (Chinese community) and PTSD (African background community).
Nope wouldn’t wash for the race ‘experts’ from London, who couldn’t see things as they were, rather than through their prism. had they been more aware of wider equality issues then perhaps they wouldn’t have been so blinkered in their own field…

James: Each other.

right, so you want more inter-racial marriages and fucking and producing. That’s great, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that at all. But I’m not sure how that resolves where we are right now… other than to say you’re doing the online version of asking us to hold hands, sing khumbaya and pretend people’s different identities don’t matter,

This needs a proper response, which I should hopefully have time for later, but to quickly clarify a couple of points.

1. Nothing in any of this is about ‘merging’ identities, in fact the main feature of the British civic identity is that no one is required to merge their personal sense of identity into anything, merely agree to abide by a common framework of public values when operating in the public domain.

2. It’s also not about either proscribing or prescribing elements of the political and cultural language relating to race and ethnicity – the word ‘please’ in there, which, as I see it frames my comments on the language of portmanteau identities in the manner of a request rather than an instruction or order.

This is all about narratives and that’s why, for example, it doesn’t matter how much evidence you can put up in support of the existence of an ‘ethnic penalty’, you still won’t make the argument for taking short-cuts on the road to a demographically representative parliament fly, not because there’s a lack of merit merely in your position but because you lack the narrative that would frame the debate in a manner that key into rather conflicts with the British civic identity, which is much more robust that some seem to think.

If we’re agreed that the distinctions are largely self-generated then it is less a pretence and more a decision.

Good point from Alisdair Cameron about localism. If you want a civic identity to flourish you need to support your civic institutions (everything from your churches and temples to your kid’s football clubs).

Well the original “Indian” food was cooked solely by Bangladeshis. 😉

Hm…That’s strange…

My gmail says that soru posted this:

“‘I think Unity would prefer “British” and “Asian” to be separated with a comma, as they are independent adjectives, rather than one qualifying the other.’

For true accuracy, shouldn’t it be “British comma British Asian”? Because unlike say British Welsh, British Asian does needs the Brit part to distinguish it from the other Asian cultures, subcultures and regions.

Analogy time: Britpop is different from pop that happens to come from Britain. It’s a somewhat distinctive genre, there is certainly British pop that is not Britpop. But the true test if it really meaningfully exists, is a useful word, is this: could you find some American group playing Britpop?

Maybe LCD Soundsystem would count.

So question is, is there such a thing as an American, Indian or wherever restaurant serving British Asian food, or club playing British Asian music? Is such a thing imaginable?”

***

but it seems to have been deleted. Very strange. Not to mention quite a pity, since that was a great post!

To my dearest Lilliput,

In regards to your earlier post, I would like to object to your division of Britain into London and everywhere else, because outside the capital we do manage to have a positive multicultural, rainbow coloured people all loving each other hodgpodge, although the British National Party does occasionally turn up to kick us. Within the capital, there are places, particularly in suburban London, where “fear of the other” is rife because of years of Conservative governments slashing budgets and enforcing policies sure to cause community division (the right to buy is an unmitigated disaster once you look beyond the face of it) and a Labour government apathetic to areas of investment which desperately needed it (infrastructure and housing being the two broad areas).

Despite this idea that the North is more hostile to the idea of multiracial communities (regrettably, this has some truth in segregated communities like Bradford), many of the local communities up here are as open-minded and accepting to non-whites as local communities in London. The main cities of Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool now have thriving multicultural centres. This isn’t a London/Rest of the Country divide, it is a Urban/Rural divide. Even that categorisation is too lazy, because the smaller urban areas of the North of England (Burnely and Rotherham) are where the BNP hold a number of seats (largely because these areas are more depressed than others) and in the countryside, the older generations are giving way to newer generations which do not seek to define others by their race. I should know, I’ve spent my life there.

Britain is not a stark division between a cabal of London liberal-lefties who want a vision of racial harmony imposed upon the country and a monolithic white society outside of it. It is a complex country with a racial dynamic which cannot be covered in sweeping generalisations.

I would also like to protest at your comment that Britain is responsible for the USA’s and South Africa’s legacies of racism. To use a quote from Wade Davis’ study of Haiti, “Slavery was not born of racism; rather, racism was the consequence of slavery. In the first days of colonialism… … the color of the worker’s skin meant no more to them than it did to the kings of Africa, rulers who lorded over thousands of their own slaves, and who for a suitable profit were more than willing to pass them along.” The dehumanising nature of slavery meant that you had to create a hierarchy of humanity in order to justify and just to work in contact with it. Britain was isolated by this contact; our traders reaped the harvest of goods and funded the trade, but the bulk of our population was isolated from wide racial contact until the 1950s, unlike the experience in the USA and South Africa.

In regards to your comments on British Asian and Black British, I’ve never found these abstract concepts in reality. As far as I’m aware, most people define themselves only as Black British as a joint indication of race and nationality, not in kudos to any perceived cultural heritage. The same goes for British Asian. I’m also perplexed by the implication that any attachment to that cultural heritage is an inherently bad thing; British society has never been a monolithic, uniform culture, despite glorious patriotic attempts to create one. We are less a nation united ,or even a nation united through diversity, than we are a nation united through commonality. Britain has been the interaction of disparate cultural groups since time immemorial, with no monarch or Prime Minister ever able to create a definitive “national culture.” Any attempt to do so would be madness.

…Has soru been banned or something?

Not guilty. I had a quick look in the spam queue because sometimes comments get caught there, but it wasn’t there either.

Maybe a blip?

Turned up on my Gmail and when I reposted what she had said there that post got deleted as well!

Makes my Bangladeshi comment seem totally OT.

Here’s what she said:

***

“‘I think Unity would prefer “British” and “Asian” to be separated with a comma, as they are independent adjectives, rather than one qualifying the other.’

For true accuracy, shouldn’t it be “British comma British Asian”? Because unlike say British Welsh, British Asian does needs the Brit part to distinguish it from the other Asian cultures, subcultures and regions.

Analogy time: Britpop is different from pop that happens to come from Britain. It’s a somewhat distinctive genre, there is certainly British pop that is not Britpop. But the true test if it really meaningfully exists, is a useful word, is this: could you find some American group playing Britpop?

Maybe LCD Soundsystem would count.

So question is, is there such a thing as an American, Indian or wherever restaurant serving British Asian food, or club playing British Asian music? Is such a thing imaginable?”

***

In other news…

Saw this and thought of you:

“No contention could be more absurd, and it may be fairly inferred that no real Englishman could be found to stand against Mr. Jackson at the Caucus behest. We suppose no one would content that a man born in England of Chinese, Japanese, or Negro parents, could be anything but a Chinese, Japanese, or a Negro, like his progenitors. It will not do, therefore, to assert that Herr Rucker is anything but a German in race, language, religion, education and national sympathy and prejudice.” – The Leeds Daily News, 17th November, 1885

Yeah, I got the email notification too. I still see your repost at #61…

I can’t speak for anyone else, and I have never deleted a comment on this site, but if I were to do so I would edit, rather than deleting the whole thing. I know one of the other editors does that disemvowelling thing… So, yeah, dunno what’s happened to it.

Why did that make you think of me? LOL. I ain’t in Leeds and that’s the antithesis of my beliefs about identity. You CHOOSE your identity IMHO.

Oh, I quite agree. I meant more the collective “You”, as in this thread/site. Seemed to neatly coincide with the topic at hand, a throwback from the days when being a Briton very much was an identity thing.

To the Tories, at least.

But yes, we do very much seem to see eye to eye over the whole identity gender/race/nationality/whatever thing. Interesting that that considered we’ve still managed to have a few fights about it…

(And yeah, the re-post is there. I think I must have missed it? Must avoid making assumptions of conspiracy while tired in future…)

“You CHOOSE your identity IMHO.”

Try telling that to an arresting officer….

I’m a Liberal! I can argue with anyone! Even myself!

You can’t argue with yourself…

Yes you can.

Can you?

Well, I think so…

Fair enough.

I’m a Liberal! I can argue with anyone! Even myself!

Indeed, it’s essential in order to keep yourself sharp.

(Or reduce yourself to an MPD afflicted mess, whichever.)

YAY! Silliness is good! Well, it looks that way to me, anyway 😀

Anyone want some of this port? It’s really rather good 😀

None for Bensix, he has school tomorrow.

All the more for us then >:D

Why, thank you.

*Takes bottle, and carefully pours out a glass. Pushes glass to one side and begins to drink from bottle.*

*Realises the need to be dour, and leftie*

So…a British Obama, eh? Well, we’ll see.

“None for Bensix, he has school tomorrow.”

The university night-life seems fun, James

;o)

(is it bad that I WAS drinking from the bottle when I read that comment? LOL)

((Oh, I’m such a bad mod…))

The university night-life seems fun, James

;o)

I was really excited because there was this metal night on, but it turned out it was yesterday! ;_;

And it’s not on again for two weeks, and it being on Tuesday means that it clashes with the lbgt (lgbt? Oh yeah, sorry, lbgtqiietc) night Thrust, and…

Yeah, in short, things are terrible. So I’m reading up on the Leeds Tory Press in the late 19th century to cheer myself up.

Yeah, I get the impression that – rather than going to university – it would be cheaper and easier for me to stack textbooks on top of my head and drink cheap vodka through a straw.

“So I’m reading up on the Leeds Tory Press in the late 19th century to cheer myself up.”

Heh, it’s been a reliable friend to many of us over the years.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=w4hEbGlrxqw
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=ztD850g3meg
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=TmIcWCJvMAc&feature=related

First has the best sound quality, the second has the most energy and the third is easiest on the eye.

Best listened to all at once.

I can always rely on you lot to derail a thread 😛

The comment by soru was caught by the spam filter and I had to release it – hence the confusion.

Unity

You write that”it doesn’t matter how much evidence you can put up in support of the existence of an ‘ethnic penalty’, you still won’t make the argument for taking short-cuts on the road to a demographically representative parliament fly, not because there’s a lack of merit merely in your position but because you lack the narrative that would frame the debate in a manner that key into rather conflicts with the British civic identity, which is much more robust that some seem to think”.

There was nothing in the piece which proposed “taking short-cuts on the road to a demographically representative Parliament”, which suggests the debate here is somewhat taking place at cross-purposes. I am against all minority shortlists.

(1) I have written pretty polemically against all minority shortlists, because it would work against the type of shift in race and identity politics. This was my piece last March. And yes it is through the ‘Obama’ lens because that is bound to be the symbolic entry point to these debates
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2008/03/minority-shortlists-british

(2) I have since gone and looked into the evidence for and against “fair chances and unfair barriers”. It struck me that the debate was being framed around a couple of high-profile soundbites – “if we don’t do this, there won’t be fair representation for 75 years” which don’t stand up at all. You seem to want to deny the validity to this frame. But I wanted to interrogate the evidence.

This November I produced some analysis of recent parliamentary cohorts.
http://fabians.org.uk/general-news/general-news/obama-uk-politics-ethnic-penalty

I was going to, for balance, link to the case for all minority shortlists, which I take to represent much of the ‘conventional wisdom’ when the issue has been, for example, debated in parliament or discussed in the media in the past. (But it seems to have disappeared from the Government Equalities Office website, where it was published, and I can’t find where/whether Operation Black Vote have it on their site either). this was The Observer’s news report
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/feb/10/harrietharman.labour

There is a limited evidence base on race, and so everybody has assumed it would be similar to gender, where there is a very well established comparative evidence base. (Much longer time-frame; much more comparable across countries). The claim ‘no country has got close to equal representation for women without some form of special measures’ seems mostly valid. The assumption that carries through to race has been made. In the British case, it turns out that the dynamics around race and gender are very different. (We don’t know why, but I have some hypotheses about it).

As a result of this, Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote has even suggested when taking part in debates on this that “there was a conspiracy, organised by Sunder” to derail the idea. What he means is that I wrote a piece in the New Statesman (though I get the impression that he somehow thinks I was put up to it by some higher powers, when in fact i was capable of thinking of my position for myself), and that the current black and asian Mps were fairly evenly divided on the idea His further point is that “women were united and we were not”. This was challenged by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Sunny among others, as well as me, as an appeal to “false unity”. I can’t see how or why all non-white people are going to agree on everything. In any event, were we to try to achieve this unlikely task, it would need to begin with a discussion of what we might all want to agree on!

This suggests to me that, if we can not get more clarity about the evidence, we were heading into a very unproductive debate( and one largely framed around the assumptions of 20 years ago),

care about black representation = for all minority shortlists on a ‘something must be done’ basis
versus
against the proposal = don’t care about minority representation/chances at all, sell-out, sweep race and racism under the carpet.

So the evidence is essential to ground a case for shifting the debate. And it turned out (against much of the conventional wisdom on this) that the evidence on fair chances shows that (i) we are reaching ‘fair chances and no unfair barriers’ for candidates of all races (and more quickly than for women); going on as we are – using several softer measures to promote supply and demand, but not mechanisms like minority lists – black and Asian candidates will start to get 8% of new selections and seats within parliamentary cohorts, but women look set to remain a good way short of 50% of new selections.
(ii) if we reframed the debate, to bring in class , it might be useful for those people who want to open up the political class.

I can not see the value in a position which doesn’t want to be driven by the evidence. The debate should be a different one if the evidence was different.

The issue of how or whether to frame ‘fairness’ claims follows from that. It shouldn’t limit what we can find out in the first place (which I think genuinely is the French position, even if I am putting that in a knockabout way).

Couldn’t a version of your position be used to suggest, for example, that there should not have been an inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence case? I am not saying that is your position (I don’t know) but it seems to me to be a broadly analogous argument with a similar shape.

While there was controversy about some of the outcomes, a great many people felt that produced evidence which was new to the broader public, and framed a need for change to chime in with notions of equal citizenship and fair play (even if some aspects of that were controversial and contested).

80. Alisdair Cameron

I’m with Sunder with regard to his last post. My (somewhat clumsy–hey, it was late-ish, after a hard day) post @ 55 (which in some respect OHOC’s post @62 backs up, shows some of the perils of the Woolley approach in practice: a false universality is applied across all BME groupings, and (inevitably) the agenda fro all from a BME background gets set by those with the loudest voices and/or best connections.
Now with the seat of power and (way too many) institutions being located in London an unfortunate consequence (probably unintended) is that London issues on race are taken to represent the race issues in every part of the country. As I (and OHOC) point out the rest of the country is racially diverse, but in different ways, and so different approaches and priorities ought to apply. The Woolley approach is too broad, and imposes a false uniformity, ironic really when the debate is about increasing diversity

The comment by soru was caught by the spam filter and I had to release it – hence the confusion.

The cover-up begins…

To my even dearer OHOC

I thank you for your time and energy in replying to my post.

I write from the point of view of a white immigrant to Britain and I have not spent much time outside of London in the 7 years I have been here. I do however have other immigrant friends who have moved to live in smaller cities and rural areas in the UK and they have all, without exception said that they came back to London because it was difficult to make friends. Their are obviously fewer people there and they tend to stick to each other.. These are white people – I suppose it was a giant leap to think it would be more difficult for people of other races as they would be even more alone.

As for the Slavery, I’m not an expert but I just want to point out that the traders, farm owners, merchants, sailors and in fact the white population of America, Australia, New Zealand, South Arica (besides the few Dutch and French Hugenots) were all British people were they not? How much racism is there in the other colonies? – that’s my perception at least. Slavery has been around since forever, it has never been a colour based concept, but rather a financial one – but I’ll try and read up more about it.

About culture, if Britain has made up of a hodgpodge of cultures the what does being British culturally actually mean? Are you telling me that a Black British person who is first or second generation born in Britain whose mum cooks him traditional Nigerian food, they speak their language, keep their traditions in their house is not living his cultural heritage. There is no Kudos or perception about it – its reality, I’m not understanding what you don’t understand about this?

Alisdair

Thanks for last comment. And the case you gave earlier – complex and different needs – was interesting. It reminded me of David Edgar’s play Playing With Fire a few years ago was also very much about the type of London-centric consultancy approach you describe.

I have just dug out this which I wrote about this a few years back – and which I think remains my broad answer to Unity’s overall framing of what should and should not be attempted or permitted …

—-
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2005/dec/21/thinktanks.immigrationpolicy

“hard-edged tensions will remain. David Edgar’s Playing with Fire, which recently premiered at the National Theatre, captures how an equality agenda will fail if it does not address subjective perceptions of fairness.

In Edgar’s fictional Wyverdale, a traditionalist northern Labour council is largely blind to the needs of its Asian minority communities.

But a London-imposed agenda to deal with pressing social disadvantage exacerbates a politics of competitive grievance, as poor white and Asian communities compete to argue over which is worse off, with the tensions exploited by both the far right and extremist community activists and ending in riots like those in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham in 2001.

If a renewed focus on “majority reassurance” then comes at the cost of minority integration there is a clear loss for social justice (our punitive asylum debates offer one case study).

To escape this conundrum, a progressive integration agenda must build a sense that we are all in this together. That is why the common framing of this debate as a choice between prioritising social/economic or symbolic integration is mistaken.

Both matter. We need to recognise that integration is a two-way street. It does require allegiance and commitment from all citizens to shape and observe the values and rules of a shared society, as well as action on the social and economic agenda to ensure that the promise of integration is met and experienced as a social reality”.
—-

While recognising the dilemmas, what I don’t want to do is accept we must retreat from addressing pressing inequalities (class, race or whatever) because we can’t construct the political argument or coalition to make it possible … So how do we do that?

I feel it must be something around a simpler common frame of reference about the overarching ‘fairness’ goal which should help us to
(i) deal with complex inequality challenges – like the ones you give – more fairly & effectively.
(ii) not try to micromanage how that is done, having set the spirit which should define the local approaches (eg, a progressive universalism: that they should seek to be broadly inclusive, while focusing resources most on the most pressing needs in their own particular patch or area, and let those balances be struck by those who are hands-on)
(iii) explain how and why those choices are made, in a way that gets us out of the politics of grievance.

84. douglas clark

Sunder,

Could you explain what you meant by this? I am frankly lost.

our punitive asylum debates offer one case study

Separate point. Just out of curiosity, how come a largely white working class constituency elected an Asian? I am talking about Glasgow, Central.

Racism will only be a thing of the past the day a black or Asian man or woman, for example, is elected into office and no one comments on the fact that they are Asian/Black/Chinese/Martian.

I couldn’t care a less what colour our next PM is. I don’t care if he’s black/white or purple. I don’t care if we never have a black PM, nor if Gordon Brown was to be our last ever white PM. I plainly don’t care what colour our PM is! Why do others?

Residuals.

87. Newfrontiersman

If a British Obama does happen there’s a higher chance of an assassination, fear-mongering and MORE racist bullshit, why do people always ignore what came before now that Obama’s the president?

There were hicks trying to assassinate Obama a year ago because he was black, oh how far America has come….

White supremacists also ended up endorsing Obama because of his policies being better for America. Look how far America has come.

I believe that some of them thought it would raise awareness of the balance of racial power, because McCain was even more “pro-jew”. It was a divisive issue (tellingly so) but it didn’t generate much of a row. Surprisingly.


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