“Yes, can I help you? ….You speak very good English…Into the main hall
and up the stairs to the left”. That was the other half of the dialogue
between my daughter and the police at the security check-point at
Westminster recently. She was joining me at the belated New Year
reception of the Chinese in Britain All Party Parliamentary Group.
Unfortunately, she missed the event.
My daughter, who looks impeccably Chinese, has an English mother and
was educated privately. She graduated last year with First Class
Honours in Law at the LSE. Of course, we don’t go around shouting out
such things, and neither are we expected to post our curriculum vitae
on laptop bags, brief cases or even emblazon the back of our tee-shirts
with our family pedigree. And what’s there to be ashamed of, if I was a
kitchen hand at a Chinese takeaway? Such social situations are
commonplace and are tedious, sometimes even exasperating.
As is often the case with these inter-racial encounters, I suspect the
flow of stimuli and responses can cascade along pathways of
misconception so what we then witness is an aggregate of flawed
perceptions. The real reasons are legion, but as a whole, they
represent some of the major hurdles for both the Chinese and the
indigenous white population, and which is probably different from their
respective interactions with other ethnic groups.
As we walked to my car, I shared some of my observations of the event with her. It is disappointing that the Chinese have surrogate representation in Parliament in MPs Andrew Dinsmore and Mark Field. It would be wrong for this remark to be construed negatively. Indeed, these are fine gentlemen with sincere desires to be sensitive and supportive of any difficulties the Chinese community might encounter.
I am also not suggesting for one moment that the Chinese community should be a case for special treatment, or that such a thought is founded on either elitist or even segregationist tendencies. The Chinese community needs an accomplished leader who is as conversant with the nuances of British social mores and politics as he or she is with the stereotypical perception of the Chinese people in Britain by the white Anglo-Saxon British public. He or she must be spiritually and emotionally attuned to both cohorts of people. Importantly, he or she will also know the Chinese people more intimately than any non-Chinese with the noblest intentions could ever hope.
Why has the Chinese been apparently in the backstage of politics or non-participating audience? Maybe it is because of their reserved nature in perceived host-guest environments. Or maybe it is because they are too busy with their lives earning a living or making advances in their spheres of work and in the social structure. And what of community leaders stepping into centre stage? It is not so much a dearth of appropriately qualified and capable people as the sheer dispersion of a small Chinese population that does not have much opportunity for grouping and organisation that can galvanises social and political mobilisation. Above all, in a role reversal of the Dinsmore and Field case alluded to above, would the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish be ready to acknowledge that a Chinese with the right attributes for a parliamentary role is fit to represent them in the House of Commons? A queue is forming at all Parties but the supporting audience is lamentably sparse.
My belief is that the Chinese community in Britain has a fair way to travel on the road to political maturity and societal respectability that exceeds the tokenism accorded to them as a group rather than as individuals. There are tests to pass and ways of gaining momentum to achieve that critical purchase on the political ladder which has so far eluded many aspirants. Britain as a nation is uniquely conservative, and it is probably this fundamental quality that needs to be addressed before Chinese Britons can make substantial progress as true equals with their peers in the political life of this country.