Narinder Singh is the Deputy Chairman of Harborough Conservatives.
“If you want an easier life, join Labour instead of the Conservatives.” That’s what a senior member of the Labour Party in Leicester told me, when I first got involved in politics. It wasn’t because he thought I’d struggle to get on within the Conservative Party. It was because he thought some people in the community wouldn’t like my choice of Party. I thought about that exchange again recently.
Partly because of Naz Shah’s letter to Priti Patel, after the Home Secretary spoke about her own experiences of dealing with racism. Partly because of the attacks on Munira Mirza.
The root of these attacks is the poisonous idea of being ‘the wrong kind of minority.’ In its nastiest form, it turns into the slur that brown people who hold certain views, or act in certain ways, are “coconuts”.
I’m probably in a minority within a minority when I say I’ve never faced any racism that I’ve been aware of. Leicester was and is a very welcoming place to live, where different faiths and ethnicities get along well.
There are plenty of conservative Asians there too, so my Labour friend should perhaps not have worried. I’m conscious that I’ve been lucky. It would have been unlikely to have been the case if I was a turban-wearing Sikh. It was different when my parents came to this country, too.
But the closest I’ve come to racism is from fellow Asians over my political affiliations. The usual: “sell-out”, “race-traitor”, as well as being told “you’re a disgrace to your religion”.
This is not mainly about differing Party views on immigration: after all we weren’t the party with “controls on immigration” mugs. We were the party that let Ugandan Asians come to Britain to flee Idi Amin.
There was also some polling I remember seeing ahead of the 2015 election which looked at views of immigration broken down by religion. It showed a clear majority of both Hindus and Sikhs were in favour of reducing immigration, as were a narrow majority of Muslims.
No, its about something else. Shah’s letter to Priti Patel was disturbing. But it is just one of many examples of people being ‘race-shamed’ for daring to have views which some feel shouldn’t be held by any minority. Some people expect us to all think and act as a homogenous left-wing herd. Sadly, this happens all the time (I recently compiled some examples on twitter).
Like ‘comedian’ Guz Khan who regularly appears on the BBC, mocking Priti Patel’s ‘level of Indian’ by making childish jokes about Indian food. Or Ash Sarkar, another regular face on TV, going along a similar theme to imply Sajid Javid wasn’t brown enough. Likewise, failed Labour Parliamentary Candidate Faiza Shaheen, who seemed to live in the Sky studios at one point.
The latest target is Mirza, who is being torn apart in left-wing papers and on Twitter, for again not having the same views and opinions they believe she should have, as a woman of colour. Inevitably leading the charge was hard-left firebrand Zarah Sultana.
She tweeted bitterly: “We’re meant to celebrate the likes of Sajid Javid, Priti Patel & Munira Mirza getting into positions of power… But you can’t separate the politics from the people & representation doesn’t mean s**t if we’re not dismantling structural oppression. So no thanks.”
Sultana is someone who won’t take yes for an answer – and won’t acknowledge any progress. For some who talk about needing greater diversity within politics it’s clear an asterisk is missing: *as long as they all think and behave the same way.
The sense of ‘ownership’ on the left of minorities like me, has also long been clear. It was only a couple of years ago that Jeremy Corbyn was telling me only he could “unlock my talents”, an… er, generous, but ultimately misplaced offer by him.
Racism still exists, of course it does. In every single country, you’ll find racists and examples of discrimination. You only have to look at India to see how some ‘lower’ caste communities are treated to be reminded it isn’t just a black and white issue, but sadly much more nuanced and prevalent than we’d like to hope across the world.
That said, we shouldn’t lose sight of the huge strides this country has made from previous decades, like when my parents moved to this country. I genuinely believe this is one of, if not the, most open and accepting countries in the world.
Polling over the years has shown falling racism, high levels of support for a points-based immigration system, and the recent positivity around welcoming people from Hong Kong shows this continues to be the case.
Very few people I’ve spoken to want to stop immigration altogether, but they want to control the levels which is an entirely sensible move, even to a remain voter like myself. I voted remain in spite of free-movement, not because of it.
We shouldn’t become complacent and think everything is perfect, because we know it isn’t. We should acknowledge our progress but continue to work tirelessly to stamp out and eradicate prejudice and discrimination where we see it.
One form of racism is acting like one political viewpoint should “own” particular groups. In Britain, no-one owns anyone else. As we continue to become a more tolerant country, part of that is about allowing people to vote and express their politics however they wish, without race-shaming them.