Not ready to wave a white flag

28th July 1995 at 01:00
Rifat Malik describes the pain of growing up an Asian in Britain. Fifteen years ago, when I was nine, my teacher called me out in front of the class, and, with barely concealed amusement, said: "Rifat is a WOG."

Faced with my horrified consternation, he benignly explained that this merely meant that I was a Western Oriental Gentleman. It was years before it dawned on me that I did not remotely qualify for the description, nor did I deserve the snide abuse.

Dr Nicholas Tate's after-dinner patter about the need for British culture to reign supreme could not have been more untimely. It comes in the wake of accusations of a whitewash over the death of Joy Gardner, the racial stereotyping of crime by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Condon, as well as the constant demonisation of Islam.

The Government's attitude to Britishness was clearly evident in the Home Secretary's recent call for citizens to help ferret out illegal immigrants. Like Dr Tate, Michael Howard appreciates the important role schools can play in the fight to save Britain for the British (for British read white and English). He actually asks headteachers to look out for suspect parents. Perhaps we could have teachers recruiting children as agents provocateurs, and snitching on non-white classmates could be a new competitive sport? The possibilities are endless .

In this country we are all British, it's just that some are more British than others. Is it any wonder that many black and Asian people end up failing Norman Tebbit's invidious cricket test? Outcast, they turn to religious and cultural roots that are more accommodating.

Any more of an exalted status for British culture must strike fear into the hearts of black and Asian parents. School is often an obstacle course for their children, with work one hurdle and racism another.

Today, my younger siblings are saddled with the debilitating insecurities that I had to shoulder years ago. This is despite being nurtured in a family of teachers. Cosseted in predominantly Asian primaries my brothers and many of their friends are ill-prepared for the transition to secondary schools which are predominantly white. Racial segregation in the playground only reflects the wider rift in society, and is a training ground for what awaits them in adulthood.

Asian parents are forced to make endless sacrifices just trying to keep their traditions from being subsumed by an overarching mainstream culture. Shamefully none of my siblings can speak our mother tongue without embarrassing our parents. Dr Tate talks of the dangers of globalisation: nothing is more universal than the English language, yet he does not complain about that.

But heed should be taken of a growing militancy among young blacks and Asians. They may be British-Asian or British-black, but they will be loath to drape themselves in the British flag. This is not just because they have been told for years that there is no black in the Union Jack, but being put on trial or accepted on sufferance is no longer acceptable. They are simply not taking any more cricket tests.

Rifat Malik went to school in Lancashire, and is a 25-year-old law graduate turned freelance journalist.

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