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George Alagiah wants to find his roots

Posted By Sunny On 8th September, 2006 @ 3:04 pm In Culture, Race politics | Comments Disabled

The Guardian today has a better interview with BBC presenter [1] George Alagiah than the rubbish we’ve been fed by the Daily Mail. His views on multiculturalism play a big part of course. Here are some choice excerpts:

At 11 he was sent to an English boarding school as unenlightened as the rest of the country in 1967 - the year, he notes, that the National Front was established.

“He hasn’t got a tan because in bongo bongo land they run around with no clothes on and get brown all over!” a fellow pupil jeered in the school showers. The others laughed. So did Alagiah, jolted into the realisation that survival meant convincing others that he was “clubbable”.

He fitted in as was necessary for him, and I respect that. You sometimes have to bite the bullet to succeed and laugh in the faces of racists later. What’s interesting is how he is now going back to his roots.

Now he is surprised at how eager he feels that his children should understand their heritage: “I do worry that when my father is gone there will be no one in their daily life who will speak with the accent that he speaks, eats food with his hands. I can’t do it in the tactile way my father does - but I do want to make sure, in an intellectual way, that all of that is not lost.”

He says that his previous reluctance to be identified as an Asian or black journalist ignored a huge part of his own identity. Now, at 50, he is finally ready to explore these issues. “What surprised me was the realisation it has been so late in my life that I feel secure enough to talk about them,” he admits.

He argues that the development of separate communities is partly the product of successive governments pursuing a race-relations policy based on multiculturalism, suggesting that institutionalised tolerance for diversity has led to institutional indifference to separation.

He thinks it has two strands: “You should not feel out of place because of your culture - and certainly when I came to Britain there was an element of that. Mine was a generation slightly embarrassed by mums wearing saris. The other part is that you shouldn’t be divided from your fellow citizens because of your culture. We have achieved quite a lot in the first and not enough in the latter.”

Alagiah adds a third element to multiculturalism: “That [cultural] exchange has to happen on an equal footing. I don’t like segregation, but not all segregation is a problem. What is a problem is where there is an overlap between separateness and poverty,” he says.

It’s interesting to note he is now finding his own cultural identity and wants to pass that on to his children. Most Asian parents come to this realisation pretty early on, and one could attribute this to Alagiah’s education and a desire to prove that he could be the best despite being brown.

In that sense his experience is unique. Most Asian parents have lived in this country not surrounded by white people but surrounded by Asians because of the jobs they have done or the areas they have lived in.

I do however agree with him on some aspects of multiculturalism - that this policy has led to segregation. But the question most commentators want to avoid is: how much of that is down to the government not really paying much attention to how its new citizens were doing (since both sides expected to go back after a few years), and how much of that is down to white families not wanting to live where there are too many Asians?

On this bit Alagiah displays some naivety. As the interviewer says:

Many would argue that the emergence of parallel communities owes more to discriminatory housing policies, longstanding patterns of chain migration and white flight than a deliberate decision by government to foster different cultures.

Alagiah stresses that racism is a part of the explanation, but adds: “Why do white people disappear? When they started complaining about their communities changing in ways they didn’t understand, too many people jumped on their necks and said, ‘You’re being racist’. That was precisely the time for us to say, ‘Maybe it is a difficult thing to understand.’

“What is it that my parents’ generation [in Sri Lanka] resented about the British? They kind of sneered from this enclave. If it was OK for my parents to feel angry about that, why, when white people feel the same thing, is it immediately racist?”

Sure, both were being racist. It took me years to get my mum to stop being disparaging of other races, and let’s not hide the fact our parents can be some of the most racist people on the planet.

But many argue that their racism was a defensive reaction to the racism they faced. Meaning that after years of being called ‘paki’ and other names, they resorted with racist animosity of their own.

Either way, it’s our job as 2nd / 3rd generations Britons to challenge that.


Comments Disabled To "George Alagiah wants to find his roots"

#1 Comment By AsifB On 8th September, 2006 @ 3:31 pm

Ghettos are often as much mental as physical so it really ought not to matter either way how many Asians one lives near to..

I’m not surprised that George Aligiah has more nuanced stuff to say on identity than the Daily Mail would let on. In his earlier book A Passage to Africa, he talked of being an idealistic Nkhrumah era schoolboy in early ’60s Ghana and of how having lived with Muslims from an early age, he does not share the stereotypes expressed by some of his colleagues. Plus of course he was a BBC correspondent in South Africa…

Salman Rushdie biog : “The trials of English boarding school Before his journey West [at 13], his mother tried to prepare him for some of the horrors he would face there. “Such as,” he remembers, “having to wipe your bottom with paper.” This he had refused to believe. “I said, ‘What do you mean? It’s not possible. No water? Not possible.’” …

He brings up one of the great perceptions of such English educational establishments: “I managed to get through four and a half years of English boarding school without a single homosexual experience…I certainly never came anywhere close to it, either being hit on by anybody or the other way round. In that sense, I missed out on some apparently essential part of the experience.”

#2 Comment By mirax On 8th September, 2006 @ 4:36 pm

>>It took me years to get my mum to be disparaging of other races to be honest,

Er…

#3 Comment By Sunny On 8th September, 2006 @ 5:00 pm

Whoops mirax! well spotted, all changed now

#4 Comment By S On 8th September, 2006 @ 5:33 pm

“But many argue that their racism was a defensive reaction to the racism they faced. Meaning that after years of being called ‘paki’ and other names, they resorted with racist animosity of their own”

There is plenty of racism at source in Eastern Europe the middle east and china without blaming it on the UK. Why are Jamaicans round my way so racist to Africans — was that my dads fault too?

#5 Comment By StrangelyPsychedelique / Kesara On 8th September, 2006 @ 5:35 pm

What is it that my parents’ generation [in Sri Lanka] resented about the British?

Apart from being colonial subjects? Not very much.
Dunno about his parents though…

The irony is that in sri lankan schools we’re usually taught about the positive leftovers from colonialism (railways, wierd food/music, tea etc) rather than “ohhhh they raped our women & badgered our cows…”

#6 Comment By Amir On 9th September, 2006 @ 2:00 am

Sunny

‘On this bit Alagiah displays some naivety.’

Piffle. George, unlike yourself, is a consistent anti-racist. Multiculturalism is founded on the fatalistic notion that communities will always ‘change’, are in a permanent state of ‘flux’ and that if you are white and live in Oldham or Burnley or Rochdale then you had better get used to the idea quickly. Your fish and chips shop is now a den for sheesha smokers? Your daughter’s school now has a majority of Urdu-speaking children? Good! Celebrate the change! Get over it.

The elite, of course, see this as very adventurous and exotic; yet they do not have to bring up their children in districts where the schools are multilingual, or where the familiar landmarks of their own childhoods have disappeared. They view multiculturalism as exciting – a matter of restaurants and alternative medicines, a wider range of cuisine and picturesque zones that they can visit as young people with few responsibilities.

BUT it is different for those who actually have to live in these ethnic ghettos. It is also different for those who believed that the welfare state set up after 1945 was for them, built on their contributions, who now see its benefits given generously to new arrivals.

It is also different for the indigenous white working-class. The Labour Party has spent the last 20 yrs encouraging migrants to entrench and celebrate their own distinctiveness; yet, paradoxically, has done its utmost to deny a culture to its indigenous voters. While it was accepted that immigrants would naturally wish to band together and preserve their cultural heritage, when the white-working class community made similar protestations, this was regarded, once again, as evidence of ‘bigotry’ and ‘intolerance.’ To make matters worse, a lot of bitterness has been caused by changes in the queuing system for council houses, which once kept established working-class communities together, but has now been adapted to meet the needs of new arrivals.

By shouting down the many thoughtful and civilised people who have tried to raise this issue in a responsible way, the liberal elite have left the field clear for real bigots and real Nazis to make political gains. Respectable, working-class people, in their increasing numbers, are voting for the BNP because politicians have lied and lied and lied and lied to them about immigration. Fashionable claims that this is a ‘nation of immigrants’ are simply not true. Past migrations, of Jutes and Jews and Normans and Huguenots, have never been on anything like the current scale. The immigration we have had since 1950 is already far greater and more unsettling than anything we have experienced since the Norman Conquest.

Well, enough’s enough. (Bravo to George Alagiah.) The wish to preserve one’s identity and the identity of one’s nation requires no justification – and no belief in superiority – any more than the wish to have one’s own children, and to continue one’s family through them need be justified or rationalized by a belief that they are superior to the children of others, or more fit, or better in business. One identifies with one’s family, because it is one’s family – not because they are better people than others. The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to one’s sense of belonging. One identifies with one’s town or one’s country, because it is one’s town or one’s country – not because it is more magnanimous than other towns or other countries.

Too rapid a change in the make-up of a community will inevitably lead to riots and resentment and alienation… on both sides of the equation. It is a tiresome truism to point out that people have ‘multiple identities’, since it is equally important for us to have shared identities. Without patriotism – and increasingly we are without it – you surrender vital things: trust, companionship, altruism, manners, language, and charity. It is time, I think, for more conservative Asians to step-forward and help us eradicate the cultural Marxism (known colloquially as ‘political correctness’), which, for the past twenty years, has been dividing our Great Nation.

Bravo George. Bravo.

Amir

#7 Comment By Sunny On 9th September, 2006 @ 11:21 am

George, unlike yourself, is a consistent anti-racist.

Typical rubbish.

actually have to live in these ethnic ghettos.

So when there’s a lot of brown people in an area, it’s a ghetto automatically. Your language is very instructive.

built on their contributions
…. because these immigrants don’t contribute to the welfare state of course.

encouraging migrants to entrench and celebrate their own distinctiveness;
It’s called civil liberties.

has done its utmost to deny a culture to its indigenous voters
How?

queuing system for council houses, which once kept established working-class communities together, but has now been adapted to meet the needs of new arrivals.
Try avoiding getting all your “data” from the Daily Mail. Council housing was always geared tpwards those who needed it most regardless of race.

the liberal elite have left the field clear for real bigots and real Nazis to make political gains.

Actually the nazis are a lot less powerful now than they were in the past.

Past migrations, of Jutes and Jews and Normans and Huguenots, have never been on anything like the current scale.
Where’s your data based on percentages?

The wish to preserve one’s identity and the identity of one’s nation requires no justification

Didn’t ask you to provide one.

Too rapid a change in the make-up of a community will inevitably lead to riots and resentment and alienation
“brown people moving into my neighbourhood make me want to riot,” in other words. Interesting logic.

Without patriotism – and increasingly we are without it – you surrender vital things: trust, companionship, altruism, manners, language, and charity
Only in your mind.

Anyway, the above rubbish aside, I thought my commentary on the original article was a bit lame too, apologies to my readers for that. Had to rush out in a hurry when writing it.

#8 Comment By Rakhee On 9th September, 2006 @ 12:33 pm

*mass groan from all picklers in anticipation of this thread becoming yet another Amir/Sunny slanging match*

#9 Comment By funkg On 11th September, 2006 @ 4:27 pm

Oh no im in the position of seeing both amirs and sunnys point of view…i had a conversation with a Nigerian women today who lives in welling kent. Her cousin who is a barrister has experienced countless experience of verbal and physical abuse in this area. And I said to her the reason they do this is because the (working class) whites they are terrified. Terrified of (highly) educated Asians and blacks, jealous of their economic successes, intimated by the their rich culture and angry at the opportunities open to them. Yes lots of working class whites feel barricaded and marginalised, but can we help it if they were poorly educated? Many of us were too and we got off our backsides and done something about it.

#10 Comment By Kaval On 12th September, 2006 @ 12:03 pm

Ghettoisation was and still is a government and housing departments around the country’s racists policies…ie sticking all black people together so they don’t feel isolated!!!!
Tower Hamlets is a classic example of this…..


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[1] George Alagiah: http://books.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1867472,00.html