Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I used to write a column at the Independent. After Nick Kyrgios' win over Rafa Nadal I looked up his Wiki entry. Turns out he's got Malay and Greek heritage. My piece from 29 April 1998 reminds me of this new ethnocracy...

It would be more than two-score years since Viv Anderson became the first black person to pull on an England football top, at least 30 years since curry replaced fish and chips as Britain's national dish - and Stephen Lawrence would have been 45.The year is 2020 and the question is: where are Britain's black folks? Not that you would find the answer from the most recent bout of crystal ball-gazing: a report by forecasters at the Henley Centre.
They are not alone in avoiding the race issue. Science fiction, with all its Delphic pretensions, has bizarrely steered clear of race and identity. Ask Vernon Reid, jazz musician and leader of the Black Rock Coalition.
'I used to read a lot of SF, but I gave up because there were no black people in any of the books. It just looked like we did not have a future.'
That is unlikely to be true. The invisible hand of the market slapped western economies hard enough after the war to ensure that non-white faces have become part of today's - and therefore - tomorrow's society.
Perhaps one reason why so few have speculated on the changing shape of ethnic identity is there are few certainties in the race debate. But the one thing you can safely presume is that Black Britain will be steadily Beiged. In the past, inter-racial marriage was something contemplated only by the brave - but not any more.
A report by the Policy Studies Institute last year found that ethnic communities are crossing the racial divide at a remarkable rate. Half of all British-born Caribbean men, a third of Caribbean women and a fifth of Indian and African Asian men have a white partner. A recent study estimated, in the 10 years from 1996, the population of the capital's mixed-race population will grow by nearly 40 per cent.
The reason for this is in part owing to the rise of a upwardly mobile group of non-white people who are comfortable moving between white and black worlds. However, the children of inter-racial marriages were, according to the PSI report, more 'culturally mixed'. Apparently 'the young retain a strong sense of ethnic identity'.
This is not difficult to understand. Race is simply too obvious to ignore. Tiger Woods , the golfer, has a heritage which is made up of a cocktail of Thai, Chinese, white, Afro-American and American Indian cultures. Although Woods terms himself a 'Cablinasian', jokes at his expense centre around him eating 'rice and peas' and being called 'boy'.
Race is also unlikely to become redundant in the future, while defining the new ethnocracy is likely to become a feature of the future for non- white people. What is likely to change is a new set of labels - created in part by a refusal by whites to co-opt black people into the British identity. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis often reply 'Muslim' when asked how they see themselves.
Britishness is not simply reading Chaucer, visiting Sunday car boot sales or supporting England's football team. Non-whites do that already. It will only be worth adopting when society is prepared to include Blackness and Browness as essential components of the national identity.
This is still some way off, however. A study of young people by the Runnymede Trust earlier this year found 45 per cent of Afro-Caribbeans and 50 per cent of Asian respondents did not consider themselves 'British'.
I am often asked 'where are you from?' If I reply 'London' I am usually met with a blank stare and the follow up question: 'No, where are you really from?' My hope is that this question will be posed less often as the position of ethnic minorities becomes more entrenched in British society. Only time will tell.

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