What Happens Now: Sajid West
'What Happens Now' is the title of Ferhat Dirik's brand new Ransom Note column. Ferhat is the co-owner of Mangal 2 Restaurant in Dalston. He was the man behind the mangal2 Twitter account before walking away from it all out of disgust for bots. His interests lie in kebabs, politics, current affairs and True Detective Season 1.
Pakistani bus drivers. Two Pakistani bus drivers have raised sons who hold two of the five most influential political positions in Britain today. One is Mayor of London. The other is the new Home Secretary. Two Muslim couples came to Britain in the '60s, the mothers raised sons while the fathers juggled working-class jobs to support their families. These two sons would go on to study in higher education, work in law and banking, and climb the ladder in their respective fields. They would excel. Both would eventually quit their positions to focus on their political aspirations. Law and banking would no longer confine their ambition. Both inevitably dream of a residence at Number 10, and sure enough, one of them may yet reach that destination.
As the son of immigrants, second-generation British, I should admire both men, their fathers, their unsung mothers, their courage and perseverance in a predominantly white establishment. Yet I can only bring myself to admire Sadiq Khan, and I find myself resenting Sajid Javid with growing contempt the more I’m exposed to him in the media following his promotion. Why? Yes, partly because I’m not a Tory, but it runs deeper than that and to deny otherwise would be dishonest. I think it’s to do with ethnicity. I think I may be the problem, not Sajid, who’s well within his rights to identify with – hell, to one day even lead – the Conservatives.
I have struggled my whole life to absolutely accept anyone from a BAME background as a Conservative. The two never mixed well together in my book, and I feel as though now is a good time to burn that book. Sajid Javid has every right to be a Conservative, just as anyone who’s white, black or any other colour, race, religion, sexuality has that very right. But I know I’m not the only person who finds the idea that bit harder to swallow, that a person of colour could be Conservative, even pro-Brexit and anti-immigration.
I still shudder with horror when I remember how a person I considered a close friend revealed he’s now an ardent Brexiteer and a Rees-Mogg superfan. He works in the city as a currency trader, so he fits the profile of the kind of man who could hold such views – a sort of yesterday’s man wishing to bring back the get-rich-quick glory days of the '80s. A time that bared the rotten fruit of Farage, another ex-city boy turned failed Member of Parliament. So far, my friend’s profile adds up. Except he’s Ghanaian. Or at least, both his parents are. He was raised in North London and many of his friends are either black or Asian. The horror and disgust I felt when he slowly but surely revealed more and more conservative, and then Brexiteering, and finally Rees-Moggian views, have forever altered the course of our future friendship.
I know that perhaps I’m the rubbish friend in all this. He’s still the same affable, positive man with the most infectious laugh. He hasn’t changed as a person, in his day-to-day interactions with the receptionist at his gym, his GP or his favourite server at his preferred Caribbean eatery. He’s certainly not evil – in fact, he’s one of the kindest, most helpful people I know. And this is why I cannot for the life of me get my head around his political views. It’s the same stunted thinking which prevents me from ever really understanding how a working-class Pakistani kid from Lancashire had a poster of Thatcher on his wall as a teenager. He’d go on to be our Home Secretary, the man in charge of our immigration policies. It’s difficult for me to envision the moment he thought to himself, “Thatcher, she’s someone I really admire, she really speaks for me.”
Growing up, the general consensus in the Turkish community of London was that the only two major parties who ever cared for immigration were either Labour or the Lib Dems. Conservatives were a no-no. The foreigner-hating, inward-looking, island-mentality carrying “others”. My brain has been wired to think this way up until Brexit confounded that thinking. Many traditional Labour voters have switched to UKIP and the Conservatives. Many of them voted Brexit. Many are anti-immigration. The lines have blurred and it’s not only on this side of the Atlantic.
Another prevalent, influential force for my upbringing was black music by black musicians. Kanye West has been a musician I have admired and enjoyed for over 13 years. From first album to last, his music has brought a catalogue of joy into my life. My closest friends and I have spent hours and hours discussing, dissecting, listening to his creations. I maintain that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of the 10 greatest albums of all time. His status, in my eyes and in other words, transcends 99% of all over humans – solely based on the music he has produced in his lifetime. And yet… Kanye is now expressing deeply concerning views for anyone of a minority or colour background. He is praising Donald Trump, wearing a MAGA cap and saying outlandish things such as “Slavery was a choice”. I’m not black and it hurts. I can only guess at the deeper degree of pain a black American may feel if they too grew up obsessed with his music and his creative output. And yet, even if I staunchly disagree with Kanye’s political alignment and choice of language, is it not his right to hold opinions that are alien to me? Opinions that enrage me, that challenge any logical thinking I can muster? Just because he’s a man with dark skin, can he not like Trump and be vocal about it? I’m not saying he should, but constitutionally he’s allowed to. He’s well within his rights to. Am I the problem in accepting Kanye for who he is? Am I the problem for not tolerating my own friend for his beliefs?
Well, yes and no. Yes, Kanye can support Trump. But Trump refused to condemn white supremacists and rode on the wave of disgusting Aryan support in his successful bid for office. Trump is clearly a man who holds racist views, and perhaps that's a whole different opinion piece in itself which can bring many examples, not to mention his obsession with holding “good, excellent genes” (compared to whom?) As for my friend, yes, he can support Rees-Mogg and his not-so-subtle bid for Number 10 too. Like Javid. Like Khan. But Rees-Mogg has been caught dining with a man who uses the n-word to describe the mother of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. And then there’s Sajid. I person I have no affiliation, warmth, backstory to. He’s a Tory. He always was a Tory, even from a young age. He didn’t flip the script like my friend, who used to be Labour. He didn’t shock me like Kanye, who used to condemn George Bush for not caring about black people, and now supports a man who has shown the same contempt for all non-whites in America, especially towards Hispanics. Sajid Javid is authentic and consistent in his identity, right from his teenage years. And I should accept and respect that right. I just don’t have to like it.