The diversity debate - no more cliches
I’m sitting amongst a group of young Asian’s in Bradford.
They should be at school.
They should believe the world is their oyster; that opportunity and success favour the hard-working.
They do not.
I refer to them in my mind as “disassociated youth”.
It doesn’t take long to find out why.
‘We are the “other”. We ‘aint part of society. We’re on the fringes…’
There is bitterness and whilst I understand where they are coming from, it is a place alien to me when I was their age.
As the conversation progresses, they point out that the only Asians in media they see are in the background. There are no role-models, nothing cool and vibrant to get excited about whether it is music, TV or literature. The black community has an array of talent, often people who have grown up desperate to see diverse content and who have actually made it happen. Rappers, actors and even the first black president of the United States. They appreciate that it is not a completely rosy picture for the black community but there exist people within it, with whom the black-community can connect, whether it is their life-journey of struggling to success (think Idris Elba or Oprah) or with their content (think Stormzy).
Rags to riches.
Nobody to somebody.
Asian’s in literature or on-screen have, to date, been confined to comedy. We are now seeing mainstream comedians of Asian descent and they bring content previously unseen.
They merge worlds.
Their comedy has touches of the Asian-experience but it is not solely defined by that journey.
Literature, for so long has been about the struggle or those stories of repression and the battle to be “accepted”.
The longer I engage with these kids, they speak of people they know who are wealthy and successful but have done so by entering Bradford’s notorious drug-trade. Worryingly, they are not repulsed by this but intrigued. They have seen and experienced that life; where wealth is quick to come by and relatively easily to ascertain. They all know this world and searching their faces, I can see their destiny is aligned with it.
“What else do you expect us to do? Be a terrorist or a dealer? That’s what people think about us…”
I show them my world – of struggles and of writing books and “changing the narrative” with regards to the stories I write about. They are intrigued and the more I talk about “Harry” and “Saima Virdee” and the ferocity of the storylines I tackle within the books, for a moment, their eyes change and we talk about whether “Harry” could take “Luther” in a fight.
Just for a moment, (and it’s the best moment of the discussion) they are alive with their imaginations.
We have James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer and Luther.
We need diverse content for the times and communities we live in.
Programmes like The Wire, breathed much needed fire into the discussion about Baltimore, drugs and the social struggles within a city of tense race-relations.
We grew to love and loathe the characters and were taken into a world which unashamedly explored stories confined to newspaper headlines or social media outrages.
Diverse content hasto give us more than what we currently have in the U.K.
Specifically, Asian’s in literature or on screen are pigeon-holed into clichés and caricatures.
Where are the edgy heroes?
Where are those stories which shatter that glass-ceiling of content and brazenly “change the narrative”by fusing worlds, creating conflict and finding a resolution?
In 2001, Goodness Gracious me was ground-breaking because for the first-time, we saw the comedy within a world previously confined to speculation and whispers.
Russell Peters broke the mould when he became one of the highest-grossing stars on the comedy circuit and inspired a generation to follow-suit.
We’ve got the comedy-thing boxed off; the content is out there and executed with real skill.
We now need to showcase screen and literary talent which explores “high-end drama” and doesn’t just shatter this glass-ceiling but creates a seismic shift in the landscape.
As I leave the group of disassociated youth’s, speaking passionately about who would win in a battle between Bond, Borne and Luther, I hope that soon, that conversation includes characters of Asian descent and that their skin-colour is secondary to the uniqueness of their character.