Farrukh Dhondy | Why diversity is critical to being British

Deccan Chronicle.  | Farrukh Dhondy

Opinion, Columnists

Very many institutions in Britain have adopted what they call a policy of 'diversity'

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“The Gita pronounces the creed

Of what your dharma decreed

But if all is Maya

Your brain is a liar

And nothing is what is perceived!”

From Sirji Kal Apres Sun

The Multilingual Pun Soo

by Bachchoo

 

Emma Raducanu’s win in the US Open tennis championship has brought her, apart from instant fame and fortune, congratulations from the Queen, the Prime Minister, Parliament and the media -- it’s as though she won the Third World War single-handed and made Britain great again. But the bright adulation of the spotlight cast behind her a dirty little, dark shadow.

Eighteen-year-old Emma was born in Canada to an originally Romanian father and Chinese mother who subsequently settled in Bromley, South London. Emma went to school and tennis coaching there and is as British roast beef. As the nation claimed and toasted her, there were, albeit very few, grumpy trolls, who denied that she was British.

These spoilsports were roundly scolded across the social media with thousands of sensible people pointing out that Britain was historically a nation populated by waves of immigrants, from the Vikings, Romans, Normans, Huguenots… and in recent decades us ex-colonial citizens. Yes, Ms Raducanu is as Brit as bad weather.

The statement begs the question: What constitutes being British? Any acquaintance with Great Britain makes one aware that its population will assert their specific nationality -- English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Cornish. That leaves out the Jews and contemporary immigrants who are “British”.

In a general knowledge lesson in school we were taught that citizenship is conferred upon an individual through “jus sanguinus” or “jus soli” --which means through your parentage and blood or by being born on the soil.

A former British Cabinet minister, Norman Tebbit, had formulated his own criterion which became known as the “Tebbit test”: If you cheered for the MCC or the English team when they were playing a Test match against the West Indies, India or Pakistan, then you were British. If you cheered for the opposing team because you, your parents or grandparents originated in the former colony, then you hadn’t crossed the boundary into Britishness.

Me? I don’t pass or fail the Tebbit test because when India is playing England, I cheer for the winning side, so whichever team triumphs I can proudly say “we won!”

There used to be the differentiation by race -- and in the past that meant skin colour. The racists contended that you had to be white to be British, despite the home office handing out passports to those who satisfied other criteria. When Britain joined the European Union with its stipulation of the free movement of labour, very many people with white complexions came to Britain and xenophobia contradicted racist skin-colourism. Poles were white but not “British”.

In recent years the British home office formulated a test which immigrants have to pass to be granted citizenship. It’s partly linguistic, an examination of your skill in everyday transactional English -- far short of course of a critical essay on the works of Samuel Johnson, say. And the test contained a few cultural questions, the sort that Indian call centre phone attendants are given a crash course in before being set loose to enquire after the health of British callers.

I don’t suppose there can be any serious objection to the requirement that to be part of a nation and a society one ought to speak, at least passably, the language of that society and to adhere to some of its cultural norms. That doesn’t strictly apply to Indianness as the country has several languages and recognises all of these -- and one hopes several religions -- as native to India and part of “Indianness”.

That being said, the globalised world has to get used to the idea that several cultural traits, tastes, traditions, prejudices, predilections and perversities have to coexist while being united in a political or economic framework. America is the obvious paradigm.

Every American adult has the vote and one assumes that they all celebrate Thanksgiving, though Afro-Americans, Hispanics, Italian Americans and middle-American evangelists live in distinct communities and proudly retain their particularities.

Assimilation of the outsider into Britain certainly means fitting somewhere into its class system. Britain has, under the pressure of its working class, established a challenge to this endemic class differentiation in several forms of meritocracy. Young people from the working classes are admitted in progressively larger numbers to the universities and hence to the professions. The same meritocratic pressure promotes the daughter of recent immigrants, Pritti “Clueless” Patel, to the post of home secretary and the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver to be the mayor of London.

Very many institutions in Britain have adopted what they call a policy of “diversity”. This means, increasing through what amounts to a quota system, the number of women and ethnic minority people they include or recruit. While this attention to “diversity” genuinely contributes to fairness in some instances, in others it becomes smug tokenism. The fact, for instance, that a TV production casts a black woman as Ann Boleyn, doesn’t compensate for the lack of black historical drama on the same channel.

Emma Raducanu was not the beneficiary of any diversity promotion. She worked hard for her expertise at the game and for her achievement. As did the large proportion of black footballers in the regional and national teams. Britain should realise, without question, that it needs its diversity.

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