Questions of race have been and will continue to be contentious so long as half of us choose to tiptoe around the topic and the other half stampede all over it.

Ever since Meghan Markel stepped foot on British soil, accusations of racial discrimination and ‘unconscious bias’ have been waged at the country’s media. And since the tragedy of George Floyd, critical race theory has once more become central to the conversation. One issue, however, is that to speak too little of racial matters suggests a predisposition towards maintaining institutional racism — or the status quo; but to summon the topic willy-nilly or inappropriately can also (quite rightly), imply a racist bent. So, one must consciously tread a middle ground in what has essentially become a turf war for the right to weigh in on an issue that concerns us all.

Welcome Rishi

The year is 2022 and the United Kingdom has its first Indian-origin British Prime Minister in the form of Mr Rishi Sunak. Regardless of your political lineage or leanings, I maintain that this is a marvellous achievement not because he is a person of colour, but because he is a promising politician who also happens to be non-white. And this latter fact, which constitutes one of his essential (ancestral) characteristics, is not something that should be ignored out of fearful politeness of being labelled a ‘racist’ in virtue of having mentioned it. In short, in order to have constructive dialogue about race, one must be free to openly argue that having a non-white prime minister marks a positive step in the equality of opportunities debate concerning particular ethnic groups.

For anyone unconvinced about the need to mention Sunak’s ethnic background, I refer to LBC radio’s Sunday show. One caller was clearly dissatisfied at the prospect of a non-white political head. In a revealing interview, Jerry — appointing himself a quintessential Tory voter — insisted that: ‘Rishi’s not even British … they’re Indian business people,’ he tells the perplexed Sangita Myska who in turn retorts: ‘Is the real problem, Jerry, that Rishi Sunak is a brown man and you don’t trust him at the top of this country?’

I suspect that Myska hit the nail on the head. But as always, everything is open to interpretation and further discourse.

Not ‘BAME’ enough?

Cynics may insist that Sunak is hardly a fitting representative of the BAME umbrella (however imperfect the acronym), by virtue of his undeniably privileged background. Head boy at Winchester College’s independent school and a product of Oxford’s prestigious PPE major (Philosophy, Politics and Economics), the only way was up. A three-year stint at Goldman Sachs and a billionairess for a wife hardly hurt either. Sunak and his wife Murty are Britain’s 222nd richest people. But all this we know and scrutinised already to the point of our moral indignation calling it a day. Sunak’s privilege is arguably just another one of his essential characteristics – albeit one that has been socially acquired rather than genetically inherited.

Barely seven weeks have passed since Liz Truss shimmied her way to victory with that vulpine demeanour. For me, her days as Britain’s prospective PM were numbered when she blithely replied on Times Radio: ‘I think it’s an important duty of the prime minister, I’m ready to do that,’ – press the nuclear button for annihilation, that is. Whatever one may think of Sunak’s ascension to the premiership, I think we can safely assume that faced with the same blood-curdling question, his answer will be more measured and fitting of the status of his role.

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