No one should be compelled to join an all-singing, all-dancing celebration of multi-ethnic Britainby Ashish Bhatt / May 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
As history this book is fine, but it says nothing that has not been said before. As cultural commentary it has been said better (mostly by the people quoted liberally throughout the book). As a blueprint, it does not address the concerns of the generation for which it claims to speak. The younger generation of non-white Britons does not need to rebrand or reinvent itself. Those who do not survey the landscape from the comfort of established institutions have no need to “Imagine the New Britain.” We are too busy living it.
The book is full of grand pronouncements. The author, like a seaside conjurer, says: “I have shed the terms ‘ethnic minority’ and ‘racial minority’ for this book.” But then she gives us a long list of those who should be defined as British Asian, or British Black or Mixed Race. This obsession with definition and categorisation can only perpetuate divisions; in any case, most of the categories are so wide as to be meaningless. Identity is a complex thing which deserves better.
Disagreeing with Yasmin is like disagreeing with a favourite aunt. At one level there is nothing to disagree about: how can any right-thinking person contest her well-intentioned platitudes? But it has to be done. She worries about being caricatured as a “soft-centred liberal,” yet says that liberalism’s failure to come to terms with Britain’s new ethnic mix reveals a deep racism. This may explain why she used her column in the Independent recently to storm out of the Labour party, claiming that the government has “edited us out.”
The book feels too much like a cut-and-paste job; it has its moments, but it could have been so much better. The discussion about Britishness and identity too easily descends into waffle. The blurb proclaims: “Multiculturalism is about more than world music and prize-winning novels from the Indian subcontinent… How can it be that in these devolutionary times the debate about identity speaks only of the four nations of Britain?”
What does this mean? That the ethnic minorities should define ourselves as some multi-coloured “fifth nation”? The fact is that the argument has been won. There is a multicultural consenus in Britain. This does not mean that racism does not still blight our streets and stalk the corridors of power, in ways more subtle than most people imagine. But what does Yasmin expect? Where in the world…