'Well if you don't like it why don't you go back to where you came from', is a sentiment that I often hear and see expressed towards individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds who wish to criticize the country in which they live. Unfortunately, in the current climate of identity politics where it is being increasingly demanded that people show loyalty to their own countries, just take 'America First' as one example, those who are viewed as the 'other', have to contend with an even higher burden of proof to show where their loyalties lie.
I, along with many others, have often found myself wondering whether I should voice concerns and opinions about the direction our country is taking as loudly as possible or toward policies that I believe to be harmful, or should I simply be grateful for the opportunities afforded to me in Britain and remain silent, safe in the knowledge that yes things are bad, but nowhere near as bad for myself and my family had Britain not provided us with a home. For some, staying silent is simply the price minorities must pay in order to live the 'British dream'. I recall the older generation who told us to simply put our head down and get on with it.
Yet putting our heads down and getting on with it is not something that future generations are willing to do, equipped with knowledge and skills, many are willing to highlight double standards, especially when they find themselves on the receiving end of discrimination, having been taught that Britain stands for equality and tolerance. Only last week a study by David Lammy MP highlighted the racial biases that exist within the criminal justice system across England and Wales, whilst one previous study showed how people with Muslim sounding names have faced significant disadvantage whilst applying for jobs.
The belief that we should hold our state and institutions to account, by making sure that we as a nation are living up to the ideals and values that we believe have come to define us, has led some to label those who do so as disloyal, as traitors and as ungrateful. For them it has emboldened their belief that we are some sort of 'fifth column' who wish only to do Britain harm by highlighting where it has fallen short.
The feeling that we should be only grateful and not bite the hand that feeds us, to paraphrase what a friend once mentioned, is a feeling that has become widespread in a climate in which so many are keen to show that they belong.
However, what many fail to recognize is that criticism of one's own country is not borne of out of malice or hatred. It was the American writer James Baldwin who whilst criticizing America in its treatment of African Americans wrote that 'I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." Similarly, many who criticise Britain today do so out of a sense of loyalty and patriotism. I have not known any other country that I wish to call my home, but I wish to criticise Britain so that it may achieve it's full potential and live up to the ideals it holds so dear. My criticism of Britain is not borne out of a belief that I do not consider myself part of it, but quite the opposite, it is because I consider myself a part of Britain that I wish to exercise the right of criticising it, without being labelled as ungrateful or as a traitor.
Yes, we should celebrate our country's exceptional strengths, whilst being able to accept our country's weaknesses, especially from those whom so many consider the 'other', if we are to ensure Britain reaches it's full potential.