As predicted by the markets, Shetty today won Celebrity Big Brother in the UK. The whole thing was a very big deal in some ways. It sparked intense debate in the UK and caused an international furore. Tony Blair weighed in, as did the mayor of London Ken Livingston, and at least six cabinet ministers including Gordon Brown, the man who is likely to become the next PM. The media coverage of the whole thing has been intense. It has resurrected Shetty’s career, and buried the careers of Danielle Lloyd and Jade Goody. English celebrities will probably be on their best behavior concerning issues of race for the near future, and broadcasters more careful about racist content.
Still – will this tempest in a teapot matter in a few months? Will it lead to any real changes for British Asians, or will it soon be forgotten?
Over at Pickled Politics Sunny directs our attention to an article earlier this week by Priyamvada Gopal in the Guardian. In it, the author raises a number of important questions. Firstly, how deep is our recently renewed ethnic solidarity:
For British Asians, the public display of familiar battles poked at raw wounds, inspiring large numbers to protest. I would feel a lot more excited about this apparent resurgence of anti-racist awareness if recent years had shown more evidence of a genuine activist spirit among us. Where were these tens of thousands of protesting voices when young Zahid Mubarak died at the hands of a white racist cellmate with whom he should not have been made to share a cell? When a few hundred Sikh women protested alone at discriminatory treatment by British Airways meal supplier Gate Gourmet? [Link]
How much of our response to Shetty’s treatment reflects class anxiety and aspirations?
India … is increasingly obsessed with disseminating the myth of the nation as fundamentally middle-class, professional and successful. The task has partly fallen on the feminine shoulders of India’s flourishing glamour industry.
This anxiety to belong to the global community of the economically successful explains Shilpa’s repeated protests that she is not from the “slums” and did not grow up on the “roadside”… Shilpa understands her task clearly: to show the world that India is really about beauty and entrepreneurial success, not slums and poverty. Losing neither time nor opportunity, India Tourism brought out a full-page ad last week … [Link]
p>The author also asks, perceptively, whether the response to racist bullying drew, in part, on uncomfortable stereotypes of another sort:
Just as nauseating is the play-off between ugly white slags and beautiful Indian princesses – a familiar Orientalist male fantasy. An Independent editorial described a contest between “the low-life Ms Goody” and “a pampered Indian megastar of singular beauty” (that Shilpa is hardly a megastar is beside the point). Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian deplored “ugly, thick, white Britain” and “one imperturbably dignified Indian woman [displaying] the supposed British virtues of civility, articulacy and reserve”. Shilpa does deftly combine Orientalist fantasy and Lord Macaulay’s successfully realised Anglicist project of creating “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English” in other ways.
A national debate on race relations needs to take place. But it must be more complex than the simple binaries and easy scapegoating provided by such mud-wrestling idiocies. All of us must take a good, hard look at racist practices and our own complicity in them. Let’s have done with the bullying on all sides. [Link]
It’s very hard for me to judge what actually went on. I’m sitting in the USA, getting second hand reports about what was happening in the contrived, manipulated and edited atmosphere of a Big Brother set thousands of miles away. So the whole thing is rather distant to me. While I’m thrilled that people overwhelmingly rejected bullying, my question is – what now?