Will there ever be a British dream?
The Prime Mininster’s recent Munich speech caused a backlash from UK BME communities. Ade Sawyerr highlights a thread of the controversy to examine whether Black Britons could ever follow the American model of aspiration, and in this country persue the ‘British Dream’.
Britain should fight extremism and terrorism but giving multiculturalism a bad name without defining it is not the way to do it.
This country is multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic and the diversity must be embraced, but what is missing is the ‘British Dream’ and creating it will be even more difficult than the concept of the Big Society
There are several reasons why people decide to leave their country. For some it is about studying to improve themselves, for others it is about opportunities for work and yet for some it is fleeing from troubles or tensions in their country to a more stable environment.
Whatever the reason, most hope that they can achieve whatever dream that took them out of their country. For most the intention is to return home someday to attest to others that their trip has been worthwhile.
People who travel to America often do so because of the lure of the American dream and yet in this country Britain there is not much talk about a British dream. Why is it that immigrants to America are fuelled by this dream and end up being successful to the benefit of the host nation whilst in Britain the contribution of immigrants is hardly recognised?
Simply put, the American dream is based on the principles of freedom and equality and is interpreted generally as ‘America is a land of opportunity for all’. It does not matter where you come from. It is about ordinary people realising their fullest potential so that they can achieve a “better, richer, and happier life if despite the barriers, if they are prepared to work hard.
So how come the only talk about the British Dream is always a debate about Britishness, assimilation, integration and multiculturalism and acceptance of one British culture whatever that is. Why can our politicians not talk about the British Dream in much the same way as the Americans do, with pride?
Or is it because there is really no such thing as the British Dream and therefore there is nothing that can unite people of different backgrounds, cultures and classes and ethnicities to bind together and be galvanised into becoming good citizens and creating this opportunity.
Perhaps it is easier to articulate and realise the American dream because America started out a country founded by immigrants and has always been welcoming of foreigners, their talents and their contribution to the country and the Americans have always allowed and continue to allow immigration even if it is in a controlled way through their lotteries and their visas for qualified people.
In this country however all we do it to complain about how we are a small island and cannot take on the whole world. Our politicians are therefore always obsessed about who is tougher on immigrations especially doing the elections times.
We forget that we were once an empire that stretched so far and wide that the sun was never supposed to set on it, we forget that we had a ready core of people who saw this country as the mother country and who would prefer to bring their talents here because of the close ties within the commonwealth.
Our insular mentality, our hostage attitude, our fear of being swamped and our lack of urgency to attract the best ensures that not only do we put up barriers against those who can contribute to this country bur we also lose our own talent to the Americans.
The calls for the protection for our way of life and Britishness has given heart to the extremists who see immigrants who have succeeded in this country, despite the odds, as having cheated on state benefits or having been given an unfair advantage in access to resources to the detriment of those who should truly benefit.
Furthermore the sense of Britishness of immigrants is constantly questioned. Some years ago it was the cricket test of Norman Tebbit, more recently it has been through asking people to study English and citizenship before they can be awarded citizenship in this country.
So instead of creating an ethos where immigrants would buy into and forge a bond of citizenship, there was a long period where the British Flag was hijacked by the extreme right as their symbol whilst politicians who should be more sensible played into their hands by calling for British jobs for British people.
If our politicians really believe in the principles of equality and freedom and are intent in transforming this country into a land of opportunity, then the example and the benefits of the American dream must speak to them and they must definitely be ready to learn something from it.
Is it no wonder therefore that a large number of black people do not bother to register to vote and there is great political under-representation for black people in most political office.
So what must be done to create a British dream and to encourage the large number of apathetic black people to feel a part of this country and to solidify the bonds that unite us rather than play to the issue of skin colour that divides us.
We should make a conscious effort to discuss immigration and issues of race in a non emotive way. We should recognise that immigration is a good thing. Our politicians must realise that the ‘mix is far richer than the pure’ and therefore diversity must be celebrated at all places and at all levels of society
It is about political parties encouraging more black and people to join their parties and providing them with the training and support needed to stand and win elections at the ward and council level.
It is also about these political parties realising that the laws they pass on discrimination must be backed up by their own political will to increase the representation rate of black people at the highest level of politics in this country.
When this pledge of inclusiveness is acted upon organisations such as Operation Black Vote will further succeed in the job of registering more black people to vote, and when the representation rate has been increased we shall see more black people putting themselves forward to stand as members of parliament.
In my book political success will engender a virtuous cycle that will lead to increasing the aspiration level of black people to play a fuller role in citizenship and hopefully with the right encouragement, a worthwhile, desirable, attractive and inspiration British Dream will be born and with that the promise of the Obama generation may just be fulfilled in Britain.
Main picture: A winner’s dream – Olympic gold medalist Christine Ohuruogu MBE wraps herself in the Union Jack at the Beijing Olympic Games.