Bonobo-Nose on multiculturalism
In these moments, people try to deal with the fact that I’m clearly ethnic. My skin colour and full name tend to give this away, and most people correctly assume that I’m Indian and Hindu. Some mistakenly think I’m Pakistani, a Muslim, or even that I just ‘have a Latino tan’, but they all recognise that my skin is brown and I am not white.
Then there are the people who are desperate to show how non-racist they are by acting as though they haven’t noticed my skin colour. Memorably, this once led to a girl earnestly asking me if I also hated when you get fake tan streaks. All I could do was hold up my brown arm and explain I didn’t really need fake tan.
The worst kind are the people who are curious about my background, but so frightened of coming across as racist that they enquire about it in a roundabout way. Normally, it leads to the ‘where are you from?’ conversation – one that most ethnic people dread. It goes something like this:
Non-racist person: ‘So, where are you from?’
Ethnic person: ‘London’NRP: ‘No but where are you FROM?’EP: ‘North London.’NRP: ‘No, but like, your parents? Where are they from?’Frustrated EP: ‘If you’re trying to ask me what my ethnicity is, I tick British Asian on forms.’
All of these people mean well, and I rarely let any of it bother me. I know they just want to make me feel comfortable, and they’re going about it the only way they know how. But, when you look at it from a wider perspective, it isn’t as harmless as it might appear. This kind of attitude, even if it’s not racist, can still be incredibly damaging.
Often it isn’t a racism problem so much as a typically British reluctance to be open and confront what is perceived to be the elephant in the room. And a lot of the time it’s borne out of politeness or good intentions - but that doesn’t mean it’s the good or even decent way to act. If anything, it’s holding us back from being a truly equal, multicultural nation where people of all ethnicities can be treated in exactly the same way – even if that means they’re treated harshly.
In the case of criminals, it goes without saying that they should be punished regardless of their skin colour. It doesn’t matter what role race plays in their crime – all that matters is that a crime has been committed. But in the case of everyday situations, people need to stop being so frightened of offending others. [Didact: And guess who made them afraid? That's right: people like you, who cry "RACISS!!!!" at the drop of a hat.]
It’s only when an ethnic person such as myself can go to a party without my skin colour reducing strangers to awkward mumbles and overblown reactions, that we will have reached achieved that goal. Society needs to reach a point where people don’t feel nervous about acknowledging that others in their community, workplace, school or social group have different skin colours, backgrounds and ethnicities. [Didact: Wrong. Society needs to reach a point where people with different backgrounds, skin colours, and ethnicities forswear their allegiances to those separating factors and bind themselves to the values and culture of their host.]