Diversity is more than just a buzzword.
Because representation is more important than you think.
As a child, my career aspirations were as far away from the traditional paths most British-Indian kids were expected to follow. Throughout the years, I wanted to be a ballet dancer, a member of a girl band, a swimmer, a footballer and an archaeologist à la Indiana Jones. It’s not that I ever showed incredible talent in any of those fields, but rather, having a professional 9–5 job seemed as if it was the most boring thing I could do with my life.
Fast-forward sixteen or so years and here I am at 21, fresh (barely so) out of university with a degree in International Relations and Economics. 6-year-old me would most likely be disgusted. Studying politics at university was a surprising choice, considering I hadn’t studied it once in my 14 years of education prior to that, despite my interest in current affairs. I loved watching the news and political satire shows like “Have I Got News for You” with my family, but not once had I shown any desire to actually pursue a career in politics. When it came to that dreaded age of writing countless personal statements and signing up to UCAS, I took the plunge and decided the mere idea of politics and international relations was interesting enough for me to study (I was probably still somewhat motivated to deviate from the “traditional”.). Even then, I didn’t truly believe I’d be working in anything remotely politics related once I had graduated. Now, the most frequently asked question once older members of my community hear I studied politics is “You’re going to be the first Indian prime minister, right?” I laugh politely, shake my head profusely and deny that I would ever want to be prime minister. However, recently after completing that routine for, probably, the seven millionth time this summer, I had a thought: why had I never thought I could be an MP or even prime minister? Up until this realisation, I had convinced myself I had never wanted to, and you could hardly blame me given the pretty shambolic state of British politics currently, but maybe that wasn’t the case at all.
You often hear about politics and Westminster being a boy’s club, run by rich, upper class, white males but in 2016, this really shouldn’t continue to be the case. England is an incredibly multicultural country, and London, the heart of British politics, is even more so; yet, the diversity and multiculturalism we so often use as a selling point is hardly accounted for within our institutions and systems. At a time when Trudeau has appointed one of the most representative and widely celebrated Cabinet office ever, British Asians are barely acknowledging the appointment of Priti Patel to Theresa May’s Cabinet office. Priti Patel, one of eight women in office and one out of only two members from minority backgrounds. Priti Patel, a second generation British Indian woman with parents who were immigrants from Uganda. Priti Patel, a Gujarati woman who, didn’t attend Eton or Oxbridge, but rather, went to Watford Grammar School for Girls and then studied Economics at Keele University before becoming a local MP who went on to win a seat in Parliament and the first Indian woman ever to become a cabinet minister. Whilst becoming a cabinet minister may not exactly be “newsworthy”, it represents an important change for many British citizens from a range of diverse backgrounds. There’s a chance that if someone I can personally relate to can be successful and hold a position of power, I could one day do the same. There’s a chance that the dream of creating real change isn’t as far out of reach as I once thought.
Whilst there have only been 3 Asian Cabinet ministers (Sajid Javid, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and now, Priti Patel), we can see that slowly that roster is growing. In May 2015, British politics saw the election of 10 MPs of Indian origin, breaking the previous record of 8 in 2010. A year later, we saw our first Asian Mayor of London with the victory of Sadiq Khan. In Canada, Trudeau’s 30-member cabinet office has an equal number of men and women, 4 Sikh members, as well as representatives from aboriginal, Muslim and LGBTQ communities. May’s 27-member cabinet pales in comparison with only 2 members from minority backgrounds and a grand total of 8 women. In America, as the 2016 presidential election continues on, there have been calls for Michelle Obama, current First Lady, to run for election instead. Slowly, the need for diversity in our systems and institutions is being recognised across the world and it’s up to us to ensure that it continues to grow. But it’s not just in politics that this is the case; why don’t we start writing books and movies about Asian, black, Hispanic, LGBTQ people instead of simply thrusting rebooted roles and stories upon those communities? Sure, a black James Bond or a female Ocean’s Eleven/Ghostbusters cast is great but why can’t we have our own stories that are made for us, about us and even possibly by us? (Although even when we have stories about different backgrounds, Hollywood still decides to cast white people as the protagonists. Sigh.). Stepping up and demanding things ourselves might be frightening (actually, there’s no “might” about it), but how much more frightening would it be if in 50 years, people from ethnic backgrounds still feel like they don’t have the power to be and do whatever they want?
At 6 years old, Westminster was run by rich men who attended prestigious schools and had a privileged upbringing. At 10 years old, I could count the number of British Asians I saw on TV or in the media on one hand. And at 12 years old, aspiring to be a trained ballerina or a pop star, even though I had never seen an Asian in either of those fields, was more realistic than aspiring to be someone who could run the country I lived in. Now, as a 21-year-old, I realise how important seeing a British Asian woman in office could be for thousands for young girls across the country. It’s an important reminder that, sometimes, we’re our own worst enemy. So whilst I never saw a role model like me growing up, perhaps it’s up to us to step up and become those role models for our kids and generations to come.
Be the change you wish to see in the world, right?