UK: Melting pot or racist canker
By Ashish Joshi
? A metropolitan police constable is in dock for abusing racially a Kurdish youth in west London and threatening to frame him. (guardian.co.uk/race; 20/5/2005)
? There is ample evidence that Britain'sschools are veritable hotbeds of racism?a tendency that has only worsened since the September 11 attacks. (guardian.co.uk/race; 1/4/2005)
? Gurpal Virdi, a Sikh police officer, falsely accused of sending racist hate-mail to himself for ulterior motives, has been cleared after a lengthy court battle, and wins record damages from the metropolitan police. (news.bbc.co.uk; 9/1/2002)
It would be a grave mistake to dub the whole of white Britain a tribe of mindless racists. The writer Farrukh Dhondy once wrote about the ?ghetto mentality? of immigrant communities who cling to their long-established ways of thought and belief and refuse to be assimilated into mainstream British society. Across the troubled north of England, which is a tinderbox of racial feelings, the underlying mentality is that of a feudal village in India or Pakistan. The Wembley area of London is considered a mini-India, but I have personally observed the first-generation Indians there are deeply suspicious of the White man.
Newly arrived in the UK, I was watching a game of football on the wide screen at a local village pub in Huntington with my cousin Ronit and his friend Ajay, both British nationals. Every now and then, the crowd, comprising of a sea of White faces, would break into boisterous cheers whenever their team sank one into the net. My two companions, who supported the rival team, Tottenham Hotspurs, if I recall correctly, quietly sipped their drinks. And then it happened. An accurate pass, a blur of scurrying feet, the ball scythed through the air, and my cousin'steam had scored its first goal. ?Yeaah!?, they chorused timidly, and looked around furtively, almost as if they had committed some mortal sin and feared condemnation.
This telling incident is a microcosm of the wider racial fissures that have polarised British society and now threaten its very foundations. A BBC on-line survey on race-relations discovered that more than half of all Britons believe they live in a racist society. The most insidious form of discrimination, racism, whether in its milder form (being hailed as a ?Paki?) or its furthest extreme (hate-murder) is symptomatic of a sick society that needs to take a good, hard look at itself if it needs to function effectively and integrate its citizens into a cohesive whole.
The riots that flared across the northern English towns of Bradford, Burnley and Oldham in the summer of 2001 are a stark reminder that much needs to be done to address the contentious issue of race relations, and despite many ambitious schemes put forward, only limited progress has been made.
Perhaps the most pernicious evil in British society, I found myself at the receiving end of a particularly nasty episode in the autumn of 2002. Having completed my postgraduation, I was in the process of applying for jobs. One morning I opened my in-box and found the following message: ?Thank you for your interest in our company. Would you mind telling us what colour you are?? I could only stare at the computer dumbfounded, my mind reeling with shock and a rising sense of fury. The ugly truth is that racial discrimination affects almost every aspect of British society?education, health services, police force?and no concrete steps have been taken to cure this spreading cancer. In fact, the Cantle Report, commissioned by the Home Office after the 2001 summer riots, said people in Britain were leading ?parallel and polarised? lives where people from different backgrounds did not mix. What is even more alarming is the resurgence of the avowedly racist British National Party (BNP) across much of northern England, whose main goal is a Whites-only England. Enoch Powell might be dead and gone, but his racist legacy of bigotry and intolerance is attracting an ever-larger number of voters, something that should worry even the most sanguine of British well-wishers.
But it would be a grave mistake to dub the whole of White Britain a tribe of mindless racists. The writer Farrukh Dhondy once wrote about the ?ghetto mentality? of immigrant communities who cling to their long-established ways of thought and belief and refuse to be assimilated into mainstream British society. Across the troubled north of England, which is a tinderbox of racial feelings, the underlying mentality is that of a feudal village in India or Pakistan. The Wembley area of London is considered a mini-India, but I have personally observed the first-generation Indians there are deeply suspicious of the White man and his ilk, and indulge in little social intercourse except with members of their own kind. Their children, having grown up in England, do not share their parents? views, but it has hardly helped in easing the tension of mutual distrust between the two communities.
The Commission for Racial Equality was set up under the Race Relations Act, 1976 to work towards eliminating racial discrimination and promoting equal opportunities for all, and to harmonise relations between the people of varied backgrounds. It has done a fair job towards working for a multicultural Britain.
London might be the melting pot of varied cultures, but one encounters an alarming increase in intolerance further afield from this most cosmopolitan of cities, something that has only worsened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Though many laws have been drafted to fight racism, and every politician worth his salt has vowed to root out this evil from British society, real progress can only be made when there is a radical change in the mindset of the average person residing in, say Cornwall, Dorset, or anyone of those counties, a world away from the tolerant British capital. The supreme irony is that chicken tikka masala might be Britain'snational dish, but when you can'teven cheer your favourite sports team with a full-throated whoop of joyous celebration in a room full of Whites, it says much about a nation that likes to call itself progressive and professes to extend a welcoming hands to immigrants of all nationalities.