|I’m not a tourist I live here||sikhspirit.com|
Dr Savinder Singh.
Walking over Hungerford bridge, the new London footbridge linking Embankment to the South Bank, a couple weeks ago, I was approached by a person and asked the following question, ‘Hey mate would you like me to talk a photo of you lot?’ I cheekily replied, ‘Actually no, but would you like me to take a photo of you?!’
One could argue that maybe I shouldn’t have been so harsh but I also wondered why he asked the question, especially as I wasn’t in possession of a camera? The main thought that came to me was a sudden personal curiosity regarding what perception this white, local cockney lad must have had about someone like me. Someone whose appearance is brown skinned and wearing a turban. Obviously like everyone else my face won’t reveal that I was both born and brought-up in the UK. But does that matter? Other questions that raced through my mind included, for example, what is the common ‘face’ of being recognised as a local Do we want to call ourselves British Asians? Surely, other religions like Jews don’t call themselves British Jews! This article won’t solve these points but hopes to open-up the discussion on how we are viewed in the UK and outline some of my memories of being brought up as a Sikh in the UK. It also reminded me of the badges that were available in the late 70s with a phrase stating, ‘I’m not a tourist, I live here!’
Lets go back to the early days. My father arrived in the UK in 1958, fresh off the boat he recalls the abusive signs that proclaimed ‘no wogs no dogs’. Being among the first handful of Sikhs moving to West London he has seen radical change in both attitudes and some moves of the so called ‘host community’ of accepting that brown people are here to stay, settle and contribute to society.
At junior school I
remembered a ratio of one in ten of brown to white kids, being told to
sing hymns and a background of political ranting by London boroughs
‘shipping’ kids in buses to ensure a ‘balance’ or ‘quota’ in schools.
Just as we were coming to terms with an atmosphere of ‘them and us’ which has we witnessed the awful events of Operation Bluestar in India. Where did we Sikhs belong now?
Although one could argue that such an isolation policy was not just applicable to Sikhs but had a general applicability to non-white settlers, it was clear that there seemed to be no activity to help bring communities together.
Did things get
better for those that had made sacrifices to settle in the UK?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. It seems that a view that ‘Black is cool
and Brown is not’ has surfaced and is sustained. Glimpses of reflecting
true life in the media or marketing campaigns have also been shortsighted.
For example, Dr Singh in Eastenders or the Sikh boy that was bullied in
Grange Hill. Its not just the politicians that need to encourage themes of
strength through diversity but the media has a part to play in showing
real-life situations. It’s interestingly that many adore the humour of
Goodness Gracious Me but there are those that despise the re-enforcement
of stereotypes. Ironically, as a Sikh in the UK I believe 90% of abuse has
come from the assumed Indian accents exploited by Peter Sellers in movies
like ‘The Party – Birdie Num Num’ and ‘The Millionairess – with Sophia
Loren. The latter movie included the hit, ‘Goodness Gracious Me’.
Unfortunately, these stereotypes are also encouraged by humour from the subcontinent and the roles of Sikhs portrayed by Bollywood. Although we should say that Hollywood can’t escape a criticism either, for example, Kirbir Bedi in James Bond’s Octapussy. From a positive perspective I have seen Sikhs portrayed in a positive light too.
However, recent events of the Bolton race riots and the successful elevation of the British National Party in Tower Hamlets show that an underlining sustaining and institutionalised discriminating viewpoint still exists. In addition, last weeks report regarding how commercial TV channels have restricted the intake of ‘ethnic’ staff is saddening news. Unfortunately, since the late 1990s we’re now seeing new virtual borders being constructed in a global community of haves and have-nots. Surprising since we all now have so much technology to make the world a closer place yet its also being used to divide us.
Politics, Stereotyping, technology and media all have their part to play. After the tragic events of September 11th 2001, it was awful to see the death of innocent Sikhs killed due to ignorance of those that don’t know who we are.
You may feel at this point that I’m painting a gloomy picture. The reality is that we have to be proud of who we are and work together in unity to show that we have a part to play in society. Already, groups have mobilised themselves to show parliament that the Sikhs are a positive and successful community. We also need to be involved in talking with the press about positive examples of success.
Ending on a message, Sikhs are a race that has amongst its morals and strengths the quality of defending defenceless people. As Sikhs, how about doing more for the people around us and being humble about our achievements? The next time someone asks you for a photo, it could be because they’ve come across our uniqueness and qualities that we give to those around us.