The Asian inferiority complex
Turning on the TV, reading the newspaper or browsing social media indicates that it’s a great time for British Asian talent. Nadiya Hussain has just won the Great British Bake Off (while fan favourite Tamal Ray produced an impressive showstopper). Burberry is championing its first British Asian model Neelam Gill, while H&M signed up its first hijabi-wearing model, Mariah Idrissi. And guess what, she got to wear her hijab on the campaign shots.
The recent spate of positive news celebrates all that is great about British Asians, and also shows a genuine progression in modern Britain.
However, the high profile roles of the aforementioned individuals have come with baggage. Neither Hussain, Gill nor Idrissi can have a single interview without mention of their ethnicity. Gill talked about how she was bullied at school and called a ‘p*ki’. There is also often mention of her Punjabi roots and how she’s come such a long way.
Idrissi is intrinsically linked to her hijab, despite her protestations that Muslims are just like anybody else. Hussain was once quoted saying that she wasn’t sure what the public would make of her appearing on national TV in a hijab, and that she felt honoured to have been well received. Overall, there’s a real sense of ‘having they done well for themselves, given their background’.
Of course, showing the Muslim and Asian community in a positive light in the media is a welcome change from the often negative connotations – terrorism, migration, child abuse and the like. However, it did strike a familiar chord when I read about Hussain’s gratitude and surprise at her acceptance into the hearts of the British viewers. It was a stark reminder of the inferiority complex that is at the very core of many British Asians, myself included.
Growing up in a small town in Wales and being the only Asian Muslim in the classroom, I simply wanted to fit it. It wasn’t so easy being the odd one out. I didn’t celebrate Christmas at home (though I dished out cards and presents among friends, and loved the festivities).
Perhaps as a result of this early awareness of difference, when I got accepted into various folds and reached key milestones over the years – getting a scholarship with the BBC for my Postgraduate degree in
Broadcast Journalism, getting some TV work with ITV Wales, working for the largest PR group in the country, securing awards for clients – I was over the moon and overly grateful.
Gratitude vs self-entitlement
Gratitude is not a bad thing, but you could almost call it the opposite of self-entitlement. I didn’t feel entitled at all, which is why I can empathise with Hussain. She felt that the hijab might hold her back in the competition, or people may struggle to accept her. So with a pre-conceived setback, her win was all the sweeter.
Worryingly, she was perhaps right to hold such reservation, as some publications have criticised the win as a BBC experiment in political correctness and sadly some comments from the public – behind the anonymity of a computer screen – have seconded such views.
While the vast majority of the great British public took Hussain to their hearts and were moved by her emotional win, sadly a few couldn’t quite detach her from her hijab, questioning the merit of her win. It’s sad to think that a non-hijabi white woman would be more likely to be judged on her lemon drizzle cake alone.
Being brown in politics
Being made to feel inferior also takes root in the corridors of power. In the run up to the Labour contest for mayoral candidacy, one in three Londoners stated that they’d ‘feel uncomfortable’ with a Muslim Mayor of London, according to a YouGov poll.
It turned out that Muslim candidate Sadiq Khan won the Labour candidacy race, and he goes head to head with Tory Zac Goldsmith next year for the top job currently held by Boris Johnson. With contrasting backgrounds, it is set to be an interesting battle. Of course, should Khan win, his victory will no doubt feel like a landmark achievement, particularly given the alleged discomfort felt by one out of three people in the most diverse city in the country, if not world.
However, it must be noted that all the above achievements are good news, and if we have more of the same in years to come, maybe the novelty will wear off, the discomfort will disappear, and the Asian inferiority complex will become a thing of the past.