Category Archives: identity

Mapping Minority Groups in Britain

In order to illustrate the current diversity of different parts of Britain, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has commissioned a new interactive map. When you click through you will find 30 cities or areas of Britain, which appear as red circles – if you double click on a circle this takes you to a detailed neighbourhood map showing the most numerous minority groups by postcode, in that area. The white British population is excluded as otherwise it would dominate the maps, obscuring the minority group data. Click here for more about how information was gathered and to access the map.

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Filed under community, identity, research

Pilgrim State and Motherland: From Migration to Homecoming

This is an essay from guest writer for Intersections, Jacqueline Walker, the author of Pilgrim State.

In 1959, as a five year old, I arrived in Southampton from Jamaica having experienced periods of separation from my mother. Like many Caribbean parents of the time, my mother had been working away, in her case in Canada, to save enough money to take her family to Britain. As children we were being united not just with our physical mother but with the country we had been taught to think of as the Mother Country. Many years later, when I began research into the construction of British Caribbean identity for a postgraduate thesis, it became clear that the confluence between Caribbean notions of mothers and Motherland with experiences of separation and reunion were not just part of my personal childhood history. The work of Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy, amongst others, has explored the response of Black British people to migration and colonialism. My intention here is to examine one strand of this thinking, with particular reference to a number of literary works, Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners and my own book Pilgrim State in order to better understand the ways that the experience of migration and settlement for people of Caribbean descent has changed over the last sixty years.

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The effects of enslavement on the relationship to ‘self’ has been commented on by writers such as CLR James and Franz Fanon. For more than two hundred years people of African descent had their bodies and minds enslaved through a number of violent and subtle stages that internalised oppression, making bearable what was, in reality, insufferable. However, people will always subvert oppression and Africans were not passive victims; they never have been, they rebelled, not just through acts of open revolt, such as those which occurred in Barbados or Haiti[1]. In every day life enslaved peoples subverted the power of the plantocracy, developing coded, highly mobile language systems, casting spells, corrupting food and saboutaging work schedules. However, one of the most effective and least known modes of resistance was the action taken by women in relation to their own reproduction. Control of fertility was, not surprisingly, a central arena for conflict; the issue being not simply how many children a woman would have, but when they would be born, who the father would be and the eventual fate of those children. Continue reading

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Filed under diasporas, identity, literature, oral histories, women

A Must Read on the Afro-Caribbean Diasporic Experience

Pilgrim State

Pilgrim State

My last post was about some of my favorite fiction and non-fiction about the migration/diasporic experiences. While I mentioned that most of my previous reading has an “Iranian” slant, I’ve just come across a great book written about a diaspora I know little about, but after reading Pilgrim State, I hope to learn more about.

Pilgrim State is about, author, Jacqueline Walker’s dynamic childhood and the lessons she and her siblings learned from their equally dynamic and strong-willed mother, Dorothy. I recently had the chance to meet and have a chat with Jacqueline and she alerted me to the fact that many books written about the migration and diasporic experience rarely are about mothers who bring their families over to begin a new life elsewhere. This is why I feel her book is a noteworthy addition to diasporic literature and to the Afro-Caribbean experience in Britain.

I’ve invited Jacqueline as a guest blogger for Intersections and am excited by the wealth of knowledge and genuine understanding she’ll be able to bring regarding the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.

Sanaz

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Filed under book, gender, identity, literature

Stuff That **** Like

One of the most popular blogs on WordPress currently takes a satirical look inside white, liberal, Yuppie, and/or Hipster culture- Stuff White People Like. In less than three months since the blog was established, it has already garnished more than 12 million hits. The posts in Stuff White People Like are intended to point out how to deal with these “white” people in a humorous fashion. Again, remember that this blog satirizes affluent white culture, and most certainly not all whites would agree to each post. Most interesting segment of each post is to read the “comments” section- you’ll find that those who respond as being non-white exclaiming that they felt themselves to be part of “affluent white culture” because like their Yuppie/Hipster white counterparts, they shopped at American Apperal, ate organic fruit and veg, and love indie films. Some come on the site to test there “whiteness”- with Rudi who commented on the first post in Stuff White People Like, exclaiming:

Some of you haven’t understood the concept of “whiteness”. It’s about trends, activities and behavior that only white people enjoy (liking diversity as such) or can enjoy (feeling superior to other whites). Of course, most of the subjects are of the lame progressive kind which are whiter than white. If you are one of these progressive minded idiots, we are here to mock you! If you are white and don’t enjoy the trends, activities and behavior on this site, we don’t care!

Again, as I have mentioned, many white people disagree with the caricature of white people on the blog, and Suze, explains in the comment section of the first post that:

This blog is brilliant, though it should be called ‘Stuff White Liberal Americans like’. It all fits my flaming liberal sister in San Fransisco perfectly, but doesn’t fit us white people on the other end of the spectrum, commonly referred to as ‘white trash’ by said flaming liberals. To get you started, we like stuff like football, nascar, cowboy boots, trucks, guns, beer, our mommas and Jesus. Although we do like coffee too.

I liken Stuff White People Like as a  humorous anthropological examination of white Yuppie/Hipster culture. Therefore, while the title might imply that the majority of whites engage in certain actions, truthfully, the blog is analyzing a certain subgroup within white culture.

It seems that the operators of Stuff Asian People Like have taken the cue from Stuff White People Like, with the same witty comments about Asian culture from China, Vietnam, Korea, etc. The inspiration for this blog is to “blog about the good and not so good things [of] Asian people.Stuff Asian People Like is already a month old and although it hasn’t generated as much publicity as Stuff White People Like, it nevertheless has provided interesting and hilarious commentary from rice to arriving late.

What are your views regarding these two blogs?

Sanaz

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Filed under Asian, blog, Class, community, cultural policy, Humor, identity, Stuff That Asian People Like, Stuff That White People Like, the concept of "whiteness"

What’s Wrong with White Girl?

I’ve been recently following the White Season on the BBC, designed to examine the white working class Britain. There has been much criticism of the program content on the White Season, especially from Sarah Mukherjee, environment correspondent for the beeb, who is herself British-Asian and grew up in a all white council estate. Mukherjee stated in Ariel, the in-house magazine of the beeb, that “…listening to the patronising conversations in some newsrooms you’d think white, working-class Britain is one step away from anarchy, drinking themselves senseless and pausing only to draw benefits and beat up a few Asian and black people.”

Sunny Hundal wrote in the Guardian, Comments is Free (CiF) and takes issue with the fact that the term “working class” is not only a white matter, but that the series woefully neglects Asian and Black working class groups. Hundal also mentions that:

The White season is a tokenistic effort after which the middle class commissioners, pleased that they’ve done their bit for the proles, will go back to their usual habits, as they do with ethnic minorities. Except, there the lives of working class minorities are ignored while shiny happy middle class Asians making music or becoming successful entrepreneurs are lapped up.

But even worse is the patronising attitude that underlies it all. Here, I can’t really do better than quote Justin McKeating: “Going by the website, the season reduces working class people to exhibits in a zoo, to reality television show freaks, to anthropological curiosities in National Geographic. Here’s some knobbly-faced salts of the earth in a Bradford working men’s club. Here’s every little-brained, little Englanders’ worst nightmare, a white girl in a hijab.” It’s spot on.

I have to agree that the White Season on the beeb has done little to represent the complete working class environment in today’s Britain. Which brings me to White Girl (you only have 5 days to view on on iPlayer), a drama written by Abi Morgan in which Leah, an 11 year old white working class girl relocates to a Muslim neighborhood in Bradford. Leah’s parents are both portrayed in the drama in the stereotypical view associated with the white working class chav— as being “brutish, racist, alcoholic, and benefit scum.” Well, Morgan didn’t veer too off from the present, equally racist view of the white, working class. Because Leah’s parents are so dysfunction in every sense of the word, she becomes interested in Islam. And, you might ask, how is Islam viewed in White Girl? Muslims are portrayed in the other stereotypical image: as being peaceful and benevolent. In fact, it seems that the drama is expressly stating that for the white working class to achieve success it needs to become Muslim. The one dimensional image of both white working class and Muslims in Bradford does an incredible disservice to both groups.

I had a difficult and uncomfortable time watching the rest of White Girl, because it presented a cookie-cutter view to very complex socio-economic issues with the white and working class in Britain. Furthermore, the simplistic notions that Islam will save the day and help rehabilitate the white working class is just patronising smugness on the part of the middle class beeb commissioners. I’m a Muslim and I found it distasteful that Islam was being elevated and being placed on a pedestal (no religion or cultural tradition should be priviledged as the better path over another)- and that specifically divorce the “Muslim” way was presented in such an easy manner, almost like snapping your fingers and va la, it is done! If this is truly the case, then most Muslim women wouldn’t find divorce such a hellish experience. This romananticized version of Islam shown in White Girl versus the often violent and criminal version protrayed on t.v. and film again only confines Muslims to the stereotypical views often presented today.  Yes, Ms. Morgan– Muslims can be racist too, just like Jewish people can be racist, Sikh, etc.– working class white people aren’t the only racists in the world. 

To conclude, the White Season has little to do with exploring the dimensions of being white and/or working class. The BBC has again perpetuated the common stereotypes regarding class, race, and religion. The neighborhood that I live in is working class and very mixed in terms of race and religion. From my perspective working class people whether White, Asian, or Black get along and are far more diversified than those in the middle class- and despite being from the U.S., I have noticed that middle class folks can be highly racist, abet in a indirect manner. The White Season shows us more about bigotry and class bullying in the beeb than about the current state of the white and/or working class in Britain.

Sanaz

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Filed under BBC, Class, cultural policy, identity, Islam, racism

Identity Within Politics

As the election season kicked-off throughout the U.S., more than ever issues over identity and gender are being commented in the media on both sides of the pond. An article in the Canadian Globe and Mail highlights the obvious sexism that Hillary Clinton seems to be facing by both male and female commentators in the election race. After 24 years since the last female to play a prominent position in a presidential election, Geraldine Ferraro, it seems that traditional views on gender are unfortunately still strong. Much like experience that Clinton has received by the press recently, Ferraro also had to endure sexist treatment from the media and fellow politicans, most notably when after the vice-presidential debate, George Bush Sr. declared that he “kicked a little ass”. No longer can a female candidate be just that- she now has to be yummy mummy and/or MILF, a fashion plate, a caring and understand wife, a professional- you name it and the list goes on.

Futhermore, if you are a woman in control, the media plays the lesbian card to imply that because of her supposed sexuality as a lesbian, this allows one to assume masculine modes of success. In addition, by dallying with the lesbian card, the media, both liberal and conservative can play one off as being somewhat anti-male, anti-family, and anti-femininity. There is much speculation that Hillary Clinton has been deceiving the media for years- that her marriage to Bill is a sham and that she is a closed lesbian.Whatever the case may be, why are female candidates presented by denigrating them sexually? I don’t know if Hillary is a lesbian or not, but at this point I don’t care- it should be about the issues and not about what goes on behind the sheets.

However, it isn’t Hillary Clinton that has been questioned and criticized for about her identity-specifically gender related. Likewise, Barack Obama has also had to content with Islamophobia within his presidential bid. Obama represents an emerging segment of the U.S. population- diasporic, bi-racial and one exposed to different religious traditions, namely Islam. Although Obama has stated repeatedly that he is a practicing Christian, there are those who feel that he is still a threat to the American people because of his Islamic middle name, Hussein, and because he spent his early years in Indonesia- a predominately Muslim country. In light of 9/11 and anti-Muslim feelings (on both sides of the pond), it seems that Obama is having to constantly reiterate his Christian faith, by down playing his obvious Muslim background. Naomi Klein, has recently written a good piece on this issue, and one that I agree with: for Obama the best thing to do to tackle the Islamophoic feelings within the media and with political rivals is to simply acknowledge that there is no shame in being or coming from a Muslim background.

The politics of identity within the U.S. elections has much to do with the evolutionary ideas of what it is to be American these days. Exactly, what is American these days? The ethnic and religious make-up of the U.S. is transforming in addition to the fact that women have a powerful role politically and economically in today’s society. The rise of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama point towards this. Especially in light of Obama, I have always said to friends that it won’t be his race that will be dissected as much as his multi-cultural background. Unlike Clinton, Obama does not hail from a predominately white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon background that for the most part has been the standard in becoming president of the U.S.

Meanwhile the push and pull of identity and politics are not tied to the U.S. alone. The 20th of April will mark 40 years since the Rivers of Blood speech given by Enoch Powell. Sarfraz Manzoor has investigated the affects of Powell’s speech in Birmingham in a piece written in the Guardian. It is odd that someone like Powell, who encouraged immigration during his period as Health Minister would warn in the Rivers of Blood speech of the impending doom and the eventuality that “In this country in 15 or 20 years time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.

Remember, when Powell encouraged greater immigration, the National Health Service was woefully understaffed. I don’t doubt that Powell came from the colonial mind-set that those employed from the immigrant, and largely from the former colonies would “know their place” within society and behave accordingly. The main fear for those like Powell was that these immigrants would gain and have a higher position than the native white population. Coupled with this, was the greater fear that these new immigrants, coming from the all parts of the British Empire, namely South Asian and Black, would change the racial landscape so much that it would cease to be British.

Much like the U.S., as seen with the presidential election, the main issue is again, what is British? Like the U.S., the U.K. is coping with coming to terms with a changing ethnic and religious landscape, while trying reconcile and put together elements of what is considered British identity. The themes of the River of Blood speech are still echoed today especially with regards to the new Polish immigrants and with the general mood of xenophobia in the Daily Mail as represented in Zrinka Bralo‘s article on her experiences as a refugee in the UK.

Of course, the easiest people to dissect are those who are immigrant, refugee, and diasporic. Nevermind the fact that the economic infrastructure of both U.S. and U.K. are less American and British these days and no one is up in arms over that. However, it is pathetic that in this day and age being an immigrant or having bi-cultural status still makes one seem “dodgy” and deserve more scrutiny.

Sanaz

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Filed under diasporas, gender, identity, Islamophobia, refugee