Foot soldiers image

Foot soldiers

April 3, 2017

Reading Time: 17 minutes.

Race baiting in order to promote a new series is common & shameful + detrimental to everyone.

The tweet above was the start of a mini spat, one where you push back against someone on Twitter, in this case, Meera Syal, someone with some small power and influence, push against what you feel is a damaging narrative.  When you do this sometimes they don’t treat you like a crazy person, and in this case, the person replied, but soon enough what becomes a conversation gets muddied by the aftershock of their supporters, their foot soldiers counter-attacking, most often than not, debating like a brick through a window, that I’m ‘racist’ and ‘misogynist’, the crosses the boat-rockers need to bare.

It’s hard to get your point across in 140 characters, so narrow a window of meaning that any depth or nuance is almost impossible to squeeze through the gap, the changing of minds or opinion smaller still, a tweet a form of expression as fleeting and persuasive as a whistle.  That tweet posted a few weeks ago, lost me about fifty followers on Twitter, just like that, which fair enough, we reap the tweets we sew - the game of Tweeting not one of fishing for a compliment of friends anyway.

As an aside,  one thing I’ve been savouring of late is to find that people I agree with have opinions I don’t agree with.  I think at one time if I found out someone’s views were inline, but that they were anti-abortion, or anti-drugs legislation, I instantly unfollowed them, unlike them, ring them from my thoughts.  But less so now, finding such disagreement like a pilot light, something to show we are both complex human beings.  If anything I’ve become more liable to trying to understand why someone I have faith in his faith in God, or is against abortion, or believes what I don’t.

But back to the tweet.

The tweet above came about after I saw a piece on the BBC website about Meera Syal (a comedian and writer I’ve long respected) titled “TV’s portrayal of British Asians has ‘gone backwards”.  Reading it I reached one of these ongoing breaking points, something I seem to be having more and more, and no doubt her words were the tipping point after Riz Ahmed’s speech to Parliament a few days before, in which he talked about a need for more diversity on TV, how the lack of it could drive the young to ISIS. 

I’m sure Meera’s point is valid to her, that UK Asians are not getting the good parts, or their fair share or that drama based on the Rotherharm sex grooming scandal paints Asians in a negative light, but I felt it was wrong.  As with all such things, which could be harmless, I take it personally, that within it is the charge that the BBC, and British society itself, is guilty of being racist, or in other cases sexist, homophobic, ant-Semitic, take your pick of the kicks. 

This view is in line with the current narrative amongst some students that universities are dens of white misogynistic privilege, built on the spoils of slavery or imperialism, when in fact they’re the high watermark of progressiveness.  If such narratives can exist in universities they can exist anywhere.  And here this idea ignores the fact that the BBC is the most progressive media organisation in the world, perhaps the most progressive and liberal organisation anywhere, to the point it could be called out as actually being racist and misandristic, in that talent, experiences and skill can be trumped by gender and race when hiring, the excuse for this never an ending need for diversity.  This idealistic striving for equality and diversity, to protect the organisation from ever accused as being in any way unequal, has led to a separate reality that in no way reflects the UK in terms of actual diversity, in that it appears far more diverse than it really is.

To look from the outside, at films and TV, billboards and adverts, you’d be shocked to find that the UK is 81.9% white (to even write the word ‘white’ makes me feel like a Nazi, which goes some way to flag up what has happened over the last few decades), and about 99.99% the second you leave the cities.  This problem between those that live in the cities, the cosmopolitans, and the rest, is a global problem, the reason we have people like Trump,  Erdoğan and el-Sisi in power, often in opposition to cosmopolitan thinkers.  This bubble means that minorities are actually over-represented in almost all media, which I don’t think most people have a problem with, but only when it’s based on merit, which is the case in sport for example.  My concern is that when you see two big pieces in only a few days, the front of the Guardian and BBC sites, that portray the UK as being in any way hostile to an Asian population that makes up 4.9% of the total UK population, well it’s both damaging to British Asians and British society, and is detrimental to all people (white, black, Asian, male or female).

A few days ago I was walking in the hills with a highly talented aircraft engineer, someone who has worked hard to establish their place and reputation in a very tough and competitive world.  This person also happens to be a woman, a rare thing in engineering, rare not due to the male patriarchy, but due to most women not liking engineering.  A few years ago someone suggested that quotas should be set, to create more equality in STEM fields, incentives are given etc, but no one seemed to care that 70% of vets were women, that someone was going to have to force such people to choose another path in the cause of equality.  Anyway, we were talking about how as an aircraft engineer she was lucky, that being a woman she could play the game, that any company would kill to have her on their team, to demonstrate how equal and progressive they are.  At this remark she got angry, telling me she’d been contacted by a large aircraft business that was looking for female engineers, “I’m a fucking good engineer, don’t patronise me by just giving me a job because I’ve got tits” was her response.

It seems like a very Victorian thing to do, to label everything and everyone, to class and stamps ourselves for easy sorting, that such as thing as LGBTIQ even exists.  Even here, the term ‘Asian is so broad as to be meaningless, lumping in a whole mass of diverse people, from African Asians, Indians and Pakistanis as well as Nepalis and Bangladeshis (there are 48 countries defined as Asain). In the Rwandan genocide, people were set against their neighbours, who looked the same and had the same religion and often were intermarried.  How people were separated and slaughtered by machete was by either their ID cards, where they’d ticked one box or another, or by how they’d always defined themselves as being on one group or another, as valid a reason for genocide as killing by football team you support.  When the genocide was underway the whites fled, and the old saying “The whites believe what they cannot see” was reversed to “The whites cannot see what they believe”.

For me what Meera and Riz, were saying was coming from people who lived in a bubble, a world that is very rich and diverse, but does not reflect the world of the majority, those people who pay their licence fees (in London what would be defined as ‘white British’ are the minority so it’s an easy view to have).  Furthermore, they were coming from a bubble where such things are actually important.  We not talking about Asian’s in medicine or academia,  but TV soaps, panel shows and dramas. Riz’s point was more dangerous, saying “If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism”, which seemed like a threat: ‘give Asians more jobs in media or they’ll bomb you.  Riz is one of those people who talks about how the system is against you, that it’s rigged and hostile, but that he was just lucky to slip through, a story of the victim overcoming the system.  Is this a narrative that helps young Asians, or hobbles them?  Are we talking the second decade of the 21st Century or post War Britain? 

But when we hear such stories we nod like dogs because to not nod would be to make us part of the problem, to push back against that narrative to be a white supremacist paranoid about losing their position.  There are voices who try to provide a more balanced rational view, one of my favourite being Morgan Freeman, whose view always seems to be one based on talent and drive and working hard, not on being ‘gifted’ anything.  But Freeman is a rare beast, as to not back such a narrative, even when you’re a multi-millionaire film star, would damage your standing.  When Idris Elba, one of the best British actors we have, becomes the first black Bond it will be due to his awesome talent, and not due to his colour, yet this will be the story, the constant narrative, and so rob him of some of this great prize.  Very often in such power plays the people who appear the greatest advocates are, to me, often the biggest racists and bigots, if for no other reason than defining one billion people to the colour black or dividing the world in two to their genitalia.

But what made me most angry, as I read Meera’s interview, read just like the power plays I read a hundred times a day, was at the end it finished with the line:

“Syal will be heard on the radio next, starring in the new BBC Radio 2 comedy Parental Guidance on 13 March.”

That anger I felt was like so much outrage these days, what it was nothing but cheap clickbait, an advert for a new BBC series.

It’s a tough thing to accept that the world is not equal and never will come close to being so, that race, gender, DNA, intelligence, parenting, nationality, will all conspire to both lift and trip.  People wish to cling onto their pity soaked comfort blankets, it gives them a reason to be shit and lazy, or worse still it’s how they make a living, propagating dangerous narratives that are easy sells to lazy editors and cowed audiences.  But what I tell anyone whose view of their lives is set this way, “LIFE DOES NOT GIVE A FUCK” in the hope they can just get on with the realities of existence. 

For me, Twitter is my own little piece of gorilla warfare, my bomb on the line, even if the only casualties are followers and a reputation.  I think it’s the duty of the mature to challenge this thinking, especially before it settles in young minds, that if everything you experience is seen as a sign of your oppression then you’ll never become an example of overcoming (yes such things do exist but life will have passed you by long before they are settled). 

I drill my own children to take the blows that life delivers, both the malicious and the fateful, that no matter how maligned, their job is to press the attack on a life.  But the most important lesson of all, the one people need to think about, is that feeling of being oppressed, that indignant rage,  is most often nothing but a drum beat, placed there by dark and dangerous people who do not care for anything but their own influence, nothing but the drumbeat of power looking for foot soldiers. 


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