Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Anyone who now thinks Britain is too multicultural?

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown                   Independent/UK                         5 August 2012
 More bleedin' foreigners winning our medals! Even cheering with indecent enthusiasm for Team GB! Golden Saturday must have been a bit awkward for this squad. Mixed feelings must have curdled the patriotic juices when Mo Farah, born in Somalia, won the 10,000 metres, hugged his daughter and pregnant light-skinned wife. And when he pronounced himself the proudest of flag wavers. Or when Jessica Ennis, the daughter of a black father and a white mother, wept as she received her gold while 80,000 fans cheered and belted out the National Anthem. I wonder how the formidable anti-immigration campaigners react when medals are won by super-fit migrants and children of migrants? Do they feel collective resentment that a Somali running off with a medal deprives real British talent?
Maybe they're like my father who was fantastically proud and claimed me as his daughter only when I got good grades – and the rest of the time arraigned me for being too much trouble and my mother's child. Even over this extraordinary, internationalist fortnight, when the world is in Britain, seeing the best of the British, some jingoists will not accept what their country is and will not let those who made their lives here or who identify with the nation ever, ever feel they can belong or represent GB.
Tiffany Porter, the injured hurdles hopeful, whose parents are black British, has faced humiliating tests of loyalty; Cuban Yamile Aldama, triple jump finalist, married to a Scotsman, waited a decade to get British citizenship. Both have felt their integrity sullied by innuendo for being who they are, not what they are trying to achieve. Aldama is hurt by it: "When I joined the team it never crossed my mind I would get a reaction like this. I feel part of this country. At home we have roast beef dinners on Sunday."
Seb Coe, one of my current heroes, has spoken movingly about how the opening reflected a nation with a "quirky sense of humour, a sense of fair play and the embracing of multiculturalism". Surely now is time for a nicely turned prime ministerial speech on what immigrants have brought to team GB. The story of this nation is one of continuous exchange between here and abroad, them and us and them who are us. The first man to win a medal for GB was Charles Gmelin, born in India to missionaries. Bradley Wiggins was born in Belgium and so on and on. There are nurses, doctors, scientists, writers and artists now claimed by this country who started life elsewhere .
I know of the problems – boy, don't we all. Day after day, we are woken by programmes telling us how bad migration is, how bad we migrants are, as do most of the papers, the far right and some nicely spoken, respectable citizens too. You'd think we are all terrorists, sex offenders, killers of daughters, illegal entrants, alien criminals, and procreators of too many more of the above. The abuse heaped upon me for being an Asian Muslim incomer with attitude would kill and bury me if I let it. We fight back because we are worth it and so is the state we live in. Immigrants don't give up.
On Friday evening, getting on to a tube in Victoria, I met a Somali family wearing so much Union Jack kit they looked like a mobile tourist stall. The mum had a red, blue and white band across her forehead under a tight, black head scarf; her sons carried flags and her daughter's leggings were festooned with crowns, Big Bens, St Paul's and colours of this nation.
They were coming back from a halal chicken restaurant after breaking an 18-hour fast for Ramadhan. They told me they were so happy because of Farah. They wanted their children to be like him, make this country proud of them. Near us a white family was just as joyous and for the same reasons. And I thought, this is brilliant, we are in it together. And then a smart-looking white woman in her forties muttered to a man she was with: "They're not British. How dare they? Why don't they go back where they came from?" You see, we immigrants can't win. But we'll never stop trying.      {Abridged]

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