“Look! A Sikh!” my dad bellows and the house shakes: it’s a call for his young to gather. We run to our small, pixelated TV and watch in awe as he points to a Sikh audience member on a chat show. Nothing but pride runs through us. We “oooh” and “ahhh” before sharing smiles and satisfied nods.
“Look at that! A Sardarji on our screens! What next? One day Sharan, you’ll be Prime Minister!” my dad’s jokes are met with more laughter. I hear my mum cackle from the garden. My brother comments on how I’m too “stupid to be prime minister,” completely missing the point.
A lot has changed since those moments 22 odd years ago – I have become prime minister.
OK, no, I haven’t, but we’re seeing a lot more visible Asians on our TVs, in the political world and in magazines. I can turn on my TV now to find a Pakistani Muslim family in a soap opera, with a gay son and no forced stereotypes of hijabs (relentlessly referred to as burkas) in sight.
And our conversations have changed from visibility to representation. We no longer just want our faces visible, we want to have political allies, people with values and morals. People who won’t deport those who look like them at the drop of a hat. Those who don’t get sacked from their jobs for having secret meetings with Israeli ministers.
Those who align themselves with Boris Johnson, whose racist and homophobic comments are now common knowledge, are not good people.
When my dad turns on his TV and sees Priti Patel or Sajid Javid on screen, he doesn’t call anyone to join him. The house stays still in the silence of shame.
We can’t let our young look to them for inspiration, because they are a product of internalised whiteness. Patel and Javid subscribe to the ideologies that further racist agendas. Their skin colour is paraded in front of us so carelessly that in fact Crispin Blunt, a Conservative MP, stated in an interview that Priti Patel was “accelerated” into the cabinet because she’s British Asian.
“I’m ashamed that they are the people in power that represent us. If anything, younger generations need to look to them as an example of who not to be.”
Patel is used as a pawn in white supremacy and takes it in her stride.
As for Sajid Javid, despite using his Pakistani immigrant father as a story to tell at parties, his support of immigration policies means that his father would not be allowed in the country. That hasn’t changed Javid’s mind, in fact he says: “It’s absolutely right that today we should have an immigration policy based more on skills”.
There is such a lack of Asian representation that we are looking to the likes of Javid and Patel as examples of success for our youth. But all they show is that success is achieved when you bend to whiteness. Our thirst is so strong for representation that we don’t care what it is, just what it looks like.
Claiming that “representation matters” reduces the importance of representation to just skin colour. It’s saying that we’re diversity hires: we look good standing next to cis male whiteness and it makes them look good. It’s not about us – our needs don’t matter, as long as you continue to help those in power to suppress those without power.
There’s no possible way to look up to people who further the disenfranchisement of Black, Muslim, disabled, poor and LGBTQ people, because when you look past their race, there’s nothing there for the rest of us. Yes, they’re Asian, so am I. But I’m also queer and have lived in poverty.
And yet, we’ve seen British Asian journalists and broadcasters make statements around the importance of seeing Javid and Patel in office for representation. While making a point not to condone their policies, they’ve been excited to see brown faces in positions of authority. It feels like a disillusioned solution to racism.
If these faces are the “first Asians” in those roles, then we should be questioning the motives of the Conservative government. We know that their skin colour is a tactical play when appointed to these positions.
If anything, I’m ashamed that our first Asian Home and Home Secretaries are Priti Patel and Sajid Javid, respectively. I’m ashamed that they are the people in power that represent us. If anything, younger generations need to look to them as an example of who not to be.