What's it like being Asian in modern Britain?
June 6, 2007 11:37 AM   Subscribe

What's it like being Asian in modern Britain?

I'm interested in what it's like to be British Asian. I'm not necessarily asking you to tell me your stories of racism but I guess that's an unavoidable element. But I'm more interested to know what day-to-day life is like. What problems do you face? Similarly, what are the good things?

Now that there are second and even third generation families in the UK, how strong are ties to the culture of parents/grandparents? How detached is it possible to be, especially if you're female?

First-hand accounts are welcomed but if you know of links to any interesting blogs or journalism then that's welcome too.

Apologies in advance if this question is offensive to anybody. I hope it isn't.
posted by humblepigeon to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You might consider reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith which takes this very question as its subject. I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend it (it's too long by half), but she does present a range of different British Asian identities.
posted by OmieWise at 11:50 AM on June 6, 2007

This is *such* a wide topic I wouldn't know where to begin. What do you mean by day-to-day life? Socially? culturally? career-wise? If you would pin-point a few areas you're interested in, that would be helpful.
posted by gadha at 12:38 PM on June 6, 2007

"East is East" took a comedic glance at the lives of young British Asians trying to combine their lives as Britons with their lives as Asians.

Not being a British Asian, I can't speak to how accurate a portrayal it is, but it was a very good film in entertainment terms.
posted by modernnomad at 12:39 PM on June 6, 2007

What do you mean by day-to-day life? Socially? culturally? career-wise?

All of the above?
posted by humblepigeon at 12:54 PM on June 6, 2007

Someone I know wrote an anonymous blog about her experiences growing up as a British Asian (dealing with her old-school parents, having a white boyfriend) that you might find interesting.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:13 PM on June 6, 2007

Have you seen "Goodness Gracious Me". I'm sure they must have covered nearly everything even vaguely amusing relating to being a British Asian by now.
posted by crocomancer at 1:37 PM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

The screenplay of East is East was also printed---but is no longer.
posted by brujita at 10:51 PM on June 6, 2007

I'm not a British Asian, but I live in an area which is predominantly (like, 96% in the schools) Asian. From what I can see around me, second and third generation teenagers are rebelling, but the extended family is a major major influence to this day - for example, in my terrace, there are two adjacent houses owned by the same family and they have knocked the gardens through, with three or four generations living in one or the other house.

Media-wise, I'm a huge fan of Goodness Gracious Me (comedy series), East is East (film), and Bhaji on the Beach (film), and think they expect that they treat some of the (more historical) issues in a true but funny way. Other reading you might want to consider:

Brick Lane by Monica Ali - this is the tale of Bangladeshi families in the east end of London. I thought it was fascinating (my area is also predominantly Bangladeshi, and there were some character archetypes I thought I recognised) but the book is far from uncontroversial (wikipedia).

Anything by Meera Syal is a good read. "Anita and Me" was where I started with her books and it's a funny, poignant tale of growing up in the 1970s midlands when your culture and skin make you stand out a bit.

(White Teeth recommended earlier is a great book, and I think insightful, but Zadie Smith isn't asian herself so it's not got that first person thing going on.)

If you want to think about the Raj and the history that immediately preceded mass immigration from the Indian sub-continent, Paul Scott's "Raj Quartet" (wikipedia) is a cracking read and in between the plotlines you can pick up a lot of history, and of the atmosphere of empire.
posted by handee at 12:59 AM on June 7, 2007

Thanks for the replies so far.

One thing I'm interesting in is subconscious racism. For example, a black journalist once wrote that white women are instantly afraid of him when he gets into a tube carriage.

An Asian journalist once wrote that, as a child, it was assumed he would want curry at school, when he actually wanted spam fritters like everybody else.

Does this kind of thing still go on? For example, if a young Muslim guy goes into McDonalds, is it automatically assumed by staff that he'll want halal meat? If a young Asian woman asks for cosmetics advice in Boots, what kind of response does she get?

Are there still problems getting jobs and accommodation?
posted by humblepigeon at 1:18 AM on June 7, 2007

I can't answer your questions directly, but here are a few observations:

I have difficulty getting a taxi back to my area sometimes - it has a rough reputation, but I expect that is largely due to racism.

Statistically, unemployment is high in the Bangladeshi community. Draw from this what you will.

Students from British asian families are much more likely to go to the local university - and stay living at home - than those from other backgrounds.

The same kids I see playing footie with the new Polish families are all dressed up for madrasa and walk past my house once a week in their finery. At Eid, you can't get a taxi for love nor money, and the queue from the barbers shop goes round the corner. The lads you see smoking spliff in their souped up car can also be seen breaking their ramadan fast with dates in the barbers a few hours earlier.
posted by handee at 2:17 AM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

humblepigeon, the stereotyping that you postulate will go on with anyone unusual, in any culture.

Be an American tourist in London, and people will tend to assume you're a flag-waving Christian hamburger-munching Bush-supporter until shown otherwise. Be a British tourist in New York, and people will assume you want tea with everything. I wouldn't necessarily call that racism, but just stereotyping.

The BBC did do a documentary recently where they had an Asian person and a white person with the same CV etc., apply for jobs and housing. I think the Asian person came off worse but I can't find a URL for it.
posted by electriccynic at 3:27 AM on June 7, 2007

I'd highly recommend 'Londonstani' (UK Amazon link) - by Gautam Malkani, which I just finished. It felt to me like an excellent representation of being British & Asian, obviously from my British and White POV.
posted by mattr at 3:32 AM on June 7, 2007

I wouldn't necessarily call that racism, but just stereotyping.

Er, stereotyping based on race is a part of racism.
posted by suedehead at 4:02 AM on June 7, 2007

humblepigeon, the stereotyping that you postulate will go on with anyone unusual, in any culture.

That's why I tried to make the differentiation between conscious and subconscious racism. Conscious racism is to identify another person as being different from you, and to treat them in a bad way because of this. Subconscious racism is to superficially accept somebody but assume a set of characteristics about them, such as the fact an Indian school-kid will only want to eat curry, or that a black person entering your train carriage will be a mugger.

I'm interested in subconscious racism because it seems to me that that is going to define what it's like to be Asian in Britain today.
posted by humblepigeon at 4:51 AM on June 7, 2007

« Older How to get a UK landlord to comply?   |   Why can't I add new mp3s to my Itunes library? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.