Working with grassroots communities, I’ve begun to question the usefulness of identity politicsby Shabnam Nasimi / March 6, 2020 / Leave a comment
I grew up in the borough of Lewisham in south east London. My family came from Afghanistan and in many ways is an immigrant success story. My sister is studying her PhD in Sociology at Cambridge, my brother is studying a BA in Philosophy at King’s College London, my youngest sister has just started to study Law and my father runs a successful charity that supports the integration of refugees in Britain (honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2019).
Having spent almost 10 years in local government and working directly with grassroots communities, I became particularly interested in the relationship between identity and politics, and how our values and ideas shape the society we live in. I found that analysing society through ethnic differences is deeply flawed—people from different backgrounds don’t have a monolithic way of thinking. Stating that the most unique thing about is you is your race risks fuelling an infuriating “us versus them” narrative, that dictates all white people are racists and all ethnic minorities are victims.
I’ve always been suspicious of what I see as orthodoxies around certain cultural issues. I have found that “multiculturalism,” which was meant to be about equality and fairness and liberating people from oppression, has become quite a rigid and oppressive ideology. It has tended to box people into categories and worked against harmonious relationships between them, dividing communities. It’s possible to acknowledge racism still exists without over-exaggerating its modern significance.
I come from an ethnic minority background and maybe I am influenced by my culture, but I’ve never felt that it explains everything I am. However, increasingly we tend to think of people as being defined by these characteristics and make judgment, rather than seeing them as individuals. This holds communities back.
And these narratives tend to give an overly negative picture of how ethnic groups are doing in Britain today. The figures present a different picture. For instance, according to the Office for National Statistics, between 2002/3 and 2017/2018 the percentage of people from ethnic groups in further education rose from 13.3 per cent to 21.3 per cent, whereas the number of white students fell by…