Ayesha Kazmi

I Miss White People

In The Personal on 27/03/2011 at 16:05

It occurred to me within the first two years of moving to Britain that my life was lacking something: white people.

To be fair, while I may have lived in a neighbourhood that was often described as a Muslim ghetto, it wasn’t only filled with Muslims. Muslims weren’t even the majority. The Asians were even diverse. There were many Sri Lankans living in my neighborhood with their produce shops and restaurants, Mauritians, Sikhs, and Hindus. There were also loads of white people – but they were also diverse. There was a massive Polish community in my neighborhood, with their polish shops, or “Polski Skelp.” The English were diverse too; many from your typical educated English middle class, and then there were the chavs. There were loads of chavs in my neighborhood. Nevertheless, over the years, when I started making friends, they all teased me calling my neighbourhood “Pakistan.” To be clear, most of the friends I’ve made here, mind you, are Muslim Asians, like me.

In those first couple of years, I didn’t think much of the lack of diversity in my friendships. I lived in “Pakistan” after all. If I wanted to make diverse friends, I was better off doing so in other places; but my options were limited. Since I don’t drink, I didn’t go to pubs or clubs – where much socialising takes place. I didn’t have much luck at work. I’d try harder elsewhere when I’d have the opportunity. SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies), where I did my masters, would be the perfect place I’d try to meet some English people.

Well, I am less than pleased to report that after two years at SOAS I never made a single English friend. I did make some white friends, however, but not a single one of them English. They were mostly European. I made friends from Spain, Italy, Denmark, Germany, and of course, fellow Americans.

How did this happen? Again, in all fairness, it’s not that I didn’t see English people making friends with Asians – because I did. I even remember one day at lunch sitting behind an interracial couple – an English man and an Asian woman – who couldn’t keep their stinking hands off of each other. Talk about ad nauseum. I almost lost my lunch that day.  But these were not the usual sights. The SOAS lunchroom made me think of Beverly Tatum’s book “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” That is, even at a leftist institution such as SOAS, the Asian people hung out together, and the white people hung out together after lecture at pubs. In my two years at SOAS, I only got invited once to a pub and only one party. Pathetic.

British multiculturalism is often referred to as a “salad bowl” as opposed to a “melting pot.” That is, while the bowl is mixed with a diversity of colours and flavours, every vegetable retains its shape, form, and taste. By contrast, in a melting pot, all the colours and flavours of individual ingredients blend together. These are interesting analogies; certainly problematic, especially in light of the phenomenon in the United States concerning the isolation of African Americans, but interesting nevertheless.

Perhaps, even, there is a general truth to both analogies; but only general. American society is built on immigration. Irrespective of the numerous xenophobes, immigration is in the core culture. While many talking heads cry over rising immigration, I don’t want to believe that it is all that easy to win the hearts and minds of average Americans. So long as you have an American passport, your Americanness won’t be questioned – even if you are brown and have a foreign accent of some sort. Today, there is also no one race that can be categorised as wholly American – whites, blacks, Hispanics are all as American as they come at this point.

This is not the case in the Britain. While people of foreign origin can certainly be British, they will never be English. It sends a message that while you’re welcome here, you will never be one of us, and thus you don’t fully belong. It’s no wonder that immigrants here regularly get pushed to the fringest of society. Today’s political push to promote British values sends a clear message to the ethnically diverse British population that there is one monolithic culture and that adherence to other cultures will no longer be tolerated.

It is no wonder that the threat the aboriginal English feel in regards to immigration appears to strike a deeper chord than in the United States. Today the main threat is Islamisation and English nationalist groups, such as the EDL, are popping up and are fast gaining momentum.

Here is an EDL yob at a rally in Luton, just outside of London in the north. It appears that this video has now gone viral!

 

My European friends and I sat down and discussed this one day at my place over some tea. How come I can make Spanish friends, German friends, even Dutch friends and can’t make a single English friend? Are the English the most closed minded Europeans? An Italian friend of mine clarified. She said that the Europeans that leave the main continent to come to London to study are of a different mindset than their local counterparts. They are already more open when they arrive, and thus, are more open to having a diverse body of friends – yes that body would also include us Asians. She then offered her unadulterated honesty. Italy has a large Indian and Sikh population. The Italians, she told me, were quite racist against their Indian citizens and typically wouldn’t make friends with people from the Indian Subcontinent. I appreciated her whole hearted honesty, but have to admit her words felt like a dagger through the heart.

I love my European friends though. I especially admire their ability and their commitment to rise above the racist thinking that plagues many European societies. My Italian friend really dreaded the idea of moving back to Italy after completing her MA from SOAS and did her best to try and find work in London so she could stay. She said that she loved the variety of life here. I can’t say I blame her. In the end, she didn’t find work and had to pack up and move back to Italy. We’re still regularly in touch. She is currently trying to find work in the Middle East.

And I do believe that the yob in the youtube video said “Muslamic ray guns” –  nevertheless, I recently found this – I end this post with this video as my personal tribute to all the EDL yobs out there plaguing Britain.

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  1. hes actually try to says muslamic rape gangs , referring to Muslim youth in places like Bradford Leeds who have groomed underage white girls for sex

  2. Hi Ayesha, loving your work. Just a quick point;
    English people in their droves can be found wandering stiff-upper-lippishly around where I live. They are mainly of the middle and upper middle class variety. It’s funny, they all seem to have decided to protect themselves from the onslaught of brown people by creating hubs of englishness, where children maypole dance and the elderly plant flowers all day, waving their cath kidston gloved hand at privately educated neighbourhood children clad in tweed shorts and boating hats. It’s easy to find English people to make friends with here, just like it was to make friends with English kids at my schools whilst growing up. The problem is, with the new wave of immigration that took on a supersonic snowball speed from around the mid nineties, areas previously populated by mostly English people have been quite dramatically affected. I myself have seen a huge change to the area I grew up in, from being populated by a mix of chav English and middle class English people to now being the ‘Pakistan’ that you describe. It is quite interesting to note your take on the way a particular area looks now since you arrived in the UK, but for those of us who have seen the notable layers of change over the last ( 3 in my case ) decades you begin to realise that although you miss those oh so wholesome White English people, if you look at most second generation Asian kids who may perhaps be in their 30’s, they are probably missing their daily dose of White people too ( for which the GP will most likely prescribe three spoonfuls of Wimbledon Village a day )

    Really enjoy reading your work Ayesha x

  3. Hello there,

    I came across your blog by accident and thought I’d proffer my thoughts. Yes, you motivated me into some kind of thought and I’d thought I’d share it.

    I have to say that I feel for that lad in the video: society has really done a number on him. He is an idiot, like all far right nationalist groups, but let’s not mock him without trying to understand where he’s coming from. He has a certain idea of his identity and he wants to protect it. How is this different from a Muslim wanting to protect his/her identity? People can’t pacify this by claiming we’re all the same when we’re not. f you think a entirely different set of people with different ideas on life can move into a community and totally divide it up and break it down. I’ve seen areas completely changed over a few decades – that’s not really that long now is it – and people are angry about it, and so would you be if it was your community.

    There is a fixed notion of ‘Englishness’ that has a deep root in history. This isn’t America. It’s more difficult to reconcile ‘Englishness’ with a multicultural identity than it is ‘Britishness’. For example, if the white English started emigrating in their droves to a purely black or Asian nation and inadvertently started changing its national character, we could be sure that there would be ethnic tension – it comes with the territory. (If that ever did happen it would be castigated as neo-colonialism no doubt, but we could call what’s going on here as ‘colonialism in reverse’ couldn’t we, but who would that benefit?). This is the problem we face. Ethnic minorities born or naturalised in this country are undoubtedly English, don’t get me wrong, but the difficulties lie in signification. The only solution is to debate with everyone, even our friend above, what it means to be English. In the meantime, promote ‘Britishness.’ ‘British’ as a signifier is more flexible than English: the British Empire being a somewhat multicultural affair and Britain not being based on national borders. The idea of being British gives us all a common thread of identity – no matter what our background; what definitely should not be done is an attempt to impose a monolithic identity on a ‘salad bowl’ as it has so been called.

    It’s not that hard to understand what’s going on though: people want to protect certain ideas. Whether we think the ideas right or wrong, that’s the way of it and that’ll always be the way of it. At least they have enough of a mind to think that ideas are worth fighting for, even if they are the wrong ideas. Isn’t that, in a weird way, to be respected? Shouldn’t it force into a meaningful dialogue?

    I don’t not say that btw, to be controversial; I think fundamentalist ideas in all forms should be resisted. There is no other way than a secular democracy that will let all ideas live side by side, but the price to pay for that is that we will always have to contain the more extreme views and debate with them – if only to reassert our own.

    … … …

    What you say about English people doesn’t quite fit with my experience. I’ve found it the other way. For example, it is the Europeans that are insular. I say this because I had a Spanish friend who was here on the ERASMUS scheme who was seen as weird – by his fellow expats – for wanting to make English friends. I also know a Spanish girl who doesn’t associate with the expat community because it is too insular.

    I also have similar experience with Chinese people. I lived with three Chinese people, who all said that they never get to practice English because their groups won’t mix.

    And on the subject, the Asian community in this country has always been known for being insular. It was 9/11 that forced them into serious dialogue because they were threatened and society was turning against them.

    For my own part, and I am white English btw, I have friends from all walks of life: white, black, Asian, Muslim, gay etc., but I don’t have a problem with people who want to ‘stick to their own’ – as long as they’re not violent against me that is (and I have been spat on whilst walking through the black community in Manchester, so I know what it feels like to be targeted because of your race).

    … … …

    It’s a pity you can bandy about terms like chav; the white working class of this country has well and truly been demonised and it’s a shame. No wonder our friend above and his ilk feel isolated and angry. We go from having a great cultural output in the 60s, with films like ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ and ‘A Taste of Honey’ to websites like ‘scallycentral’ and shows like Jeremy Kyle and ‘Little Britain.’ That speaks a lot about attitudes. We go from a mature representation that sought to educate to a belittling one.

    .

  4. Sorry, I made a mistake above. The 2nd paragraph should read:

    People can’t pacify this by claiming we’re all the same when we’re not. An entirely different set of people with different ideas on life cannot move into a community and totally divide it up without there being some tension. I’ve seen areas completely changed over a few decades – that’s not really that long now is it – and people are angry about it, and so would you be if it was your community.

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