Sunday 4 December 2011

TAOBQ Required Reading: The Term Black And Asian - A Short History/The British Identity

These two thought-provoking 2006 pieces - Linda Bellos' take on the split from political Black to Black and Asian, and Tony Malone's identity-questioning take on Britishness - have been retrieved from Bellos' offline blog, and is required reading, along with the videos of Bellos delivering a powerful keynote speech at a 2008 African/Black History Month event.

From offline blog by by Linda Bellos

Tuesday, March 21, 2006
The term Black and Asian - a Short History

In the circles in which I mix, there has been a bit of a buzz in the air about the term Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME). It is new and, as far as anyone can tell, it does not seem to have been the subject of much consultation. The London Development Agency and the Greater London Authority have adopted the term, so we must assume that it is official. 

I have a problem with the new term on several counts. Firstly, it has the potential to be divisive, especially without the consultation or explanation. Secondly, it is long, and is likely to be challenged by any other group that does not feel that included. For example, the growing Chinese community may feel excluded. Perhaps most importantly, BAME begins to set up a hierarchy. 

The solution to a society in which communities develop and change is not to make the list longer, but to come up with a term that is inclusive of all people who are subject to racism because of their race, nationality, ethnic group or their colour. 

The term Ethnic Minority would do it, but this would require some of us to be confident enough to feel we can compete with other groups and not be marginalised. Given where we are now in 2006, the community of African and African Caribbean people is well established and largely accepted by British society. Numerically there are many more people of Asian than African origin. But this never been a problem or an issue when we had a politics which was about fighting racism. But if we have moved on to a new phase in which we compete with each other to demand separate representation because an Asian person does not (cannot) represent an African person and vice verse, than we are in trouble. 

People of African and Asian heritage have long worked together in the UK in the common struggle against racism, imperialism and oppression. Even before the Pan-African Congress, held in London in 1902, the were countless recorded examples of unity and solidarity between those seeking liberation form British rules in the Caribbean, India (as was) and Africa. 

More recently, especially in the late 1960’s through to the mid 1980’s, we progressives called ourselves Black. This was not only because the word was reclaimed as a positive, but we also knew that we shared a common experience of racism because of our skin colour. This much was largely true of struggles against racism and other manifestations of discrimination. 

When we started Black Sections in the Labour Party in 1984, we saw it as a struggle for representation for African, Caribbean and Asian voters and members of the Labour Party. We worked successfully to increase our presentation at both local and national level. And before history gets rewritten, let it be remembered that Dianne Abbott, Keith Vaz, Paul Boateng and the late (great) Bernie Grant were selected for winnable seats directly as a result of our campaign, as were thousands of councillors from Rochdale to Lewisham. 

But, as soon as we began to be successful, we saw two major onslaughts on us. The first was the opposition from the Labour party, including the famous response from Roy Hattersley that “his Asians did not want Black Sections”, and the creeping use of the term Black and Asian. 

I have no objection in principle or practice if Asian people want to describe themselves as Asian, and increasingly some will and must define themselves as Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan. It is inevitable that this should happen and it should not raise objections. Our sense of self and sense of place is important to all human beings. But the term Black and Asian is an insult to those of us who are being described not by our geography, but by our skin colour. 

Black remains a political term that we should be encouraging, if it means being united by a common experience of racism and commitment to fighting that racism. The terms Black has a proud heritage, one we should wear with honour and pride. But if Black now means Caribbean or African, I reject it entirely. I am insulted and slighted by it since it means, in the context of “Black and Asian” that I come from no place. Where on the map is Black? I know where Asia is, but Black is not a place. It speaks of no history and defines us only in terms of our skin colour. 

Anyone familiar with Britain’s imperial history from the receiving end will be familiar with ‘divide and rule’. Some of us remember the distinctions the British tried to draw between those of us from the Caribbean, those from Continental Africa and those from the Diaspora. But for those not aware, most of the people from the Caribbean did not go there on package tours. They were either indentured labour from India or China, or enslaved African men and women. 

My father was born in Africa and came to the UK during World War 2. Both he, and his children, experienced racism because of his heritage. He bequeathed a strong sense of pride in my heritage, all parts of it. 

When I had the opportunity in 1987 to introduce Black History Month into the UK, following the advice of Ansel Wong, I did so to encourage an awareness and celebration of the African and Asian contribution to British history. Black was inclusive then and it is still a political term. If there are people who feel that the struggle against discrimination is over, good for them. And if others insist that they have moved beyond the politics of solidarity, I cannot stop the tide. But I say this, please call me African. 

If, at the beginning of a new millennium, we need a new vocabulary to describe the rich ethnic mix of the UK, then let us begin it with inclusive consultation. Where, by the way will I find the race equality impact assessment done on the GLA on this renaming decision? 

Linda Bellos.

posted by Editor @ 11:59 AM

Friday, May 19, 2006
The British identity

In the news this week is a story that the British government is to review whether “core British values” should become part of the educational curriculum for all 11 to 16 year olds.

The United Kingdom is multi-cultural and has been for centuries. This is a strength which has developed even more significantly over the last century; leading the country to becoming one of the most advanced nations with regards to legislation, social attitude and awareness of diversity. It would be fair to say that most of the UK population has embraced diversity and change. Yes, there have been and still are issues around cultural difference and race, but these are being overcome through information and education. 

So what is ‘British’? Is it the way we celebrate our lives, culture and history, or how we describe ourselves on application forms?

Within the UK, Irish, Scottish and Welsh cultures have been celebrated ever more vigorously; Northern Ireland is fast developing its own national identity, different from the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK. In Scotland, people have long seen themselves as clearly Scottish, taking pride in their unique heritage, identity and cultural achievements. Wales too is fast regaining a strong sense of what it means to be Welsh while embracing its multicultural society in a devolved environment.

The missing country in this list is, of course, England. The English often fail to celebrate the distinct nature of Englishness, preferring, almost apologetically, to define themselves as British for the stronger sense of identity attached to the name. This feeling of disenfranchisement has been exacerbated by the high-jacking of the English flag by nationalist parties. As a result, many English people became embarrassed to identify as English. An symptomatic example of this is the way St Patrick’s Day is a widely celebrated holiday in England, while St Georges day is nearly forgotten. Since the World cup of 2002, however, the English flag has slowly been re-appropriated by the crowds and many people can again look upon it with pride. 

Because, contrary to the other countries of the Union, England finds itself the only one without its own representative chamber, the English will quite naturally find themselves disenchanted with ‘Englishness’ and look to other ideas of national identity. 

So without a sense of national identity where could a country look to get a sense of community. In London there is a sense of “London as community”, a serious of joined up villages with just over 8million people. It is almost a separate state from the rest of England, in the south and south west you have local revival movements trying to re-establish English culture as new, looking to France and Europe for ideas, or looking further into their own cultural history for inspiration of identity through county, with each regional area exploring and celebrating their own cultural and historical heritage. 

The recent lack of recognition of the national English culture has led to far right political parties trying to bolster their sense of identity with their use of the Union Jack. Added to this is the problem that, for many, ‘English’ means white, when, in fact, many members of the Black and Minority Ethnic groups will and can identify as English.

The effect of this is a confused and somewhat xenophobic social attitude, which, inadequately for many, fills the cultural void left alongside the Welsh, Scottish and Irish identities.

Recent government recommendations and suggestions at trying to instil a sense of British identity are all based on the premise that we don’t have a strong identity. The recent BBC ‘Greatest Briton’ programme and the recent Golden Jubilee celebrations prove there is both interest and a wealth of cultural heritage in Great Britain already, it just needs to be celebrated in a way which clearly separates it from Englishness and allows all areas of the UK to feel British.

The proposals set forward to teach British values classes, amount to little more than an exercise in patriotism and ethics. Teaching freedom and fairness, equality and history are not distinctive enough.

We all share British values, it is in our society’s laws and governance, but you can still have British values and still be a criminal or extremist.

We are all capable of wearing multiple identities. Coming from a ‘village’ known as Brockley, I am proud to come from the area and recognise its history, Brockley, is in South London, again I am proud of the cultural and historical strength of the South of London, then I’m a Londoner, another identity I wear that forms part of the identity of the South East of England, greater still is that all these identities are part of Englishness. In addition to this when needed, I identify myself as British, using it as a more inclusive term.

The re-invention of ‘British’ is not needed. It is there and it works, what is needed is a celebration of being Welsh, Irish, Scottish, White, Black, Christian, Muslim Gay, Lesbian, and English, reclaiming local, national and cultural identities, that celebrates the fact that British means a modern, proud and multi-cultural society.

Tony Malone

posted by Editor @ 2:

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