A woman who really gets under our skin

This is a painful, wise and thoughtful book by a fine writer. Her last work was a research report on what progress has been made, and not made, in race relations in this country. It was the most comprehensive survey for 30 years. But a report can inhibit the flow and feelings of a natural writer. No inhibitions now, as she expands, with a rare blend of analysis and deep feeling, on the question of identities - the how as well as the why of a multicultural society; the practice of a philosophy of pluralism.

This is a painful, wise and thoughtful book by a fine writer. Her last work was a research report on what progress has been made, and not made, in race relations in this country. It was the most comprehensive survey for 30 years. But a report can inhibit the flow and feelings of a natural writer. No inhibitions now, as she expands, with a rare blend of analysis and deep feeling, on the question of identities - the how as well as the why of a multicultural society; the practice of a philosophy of pluralism.

How good a writer she is will be no secret to those who buy this paper, where her column ranges far wider than issues of ethnicity. Anthony Giddens may still be smarting at her refusal to join the praise-chorus for his Reith lectures, which seemed to her to have planted both feet firmly in mid-air. And she is not a "personality columnist"; one reads her not for who she is, but as one reads Andrew Marr, Neal Ascherson or Polly Toynbee, for their intelligence on difficult public issues. In such writers, reasoned political thinking, rather than sound-biting and back-biting, still holds out.

We all need to know more about one another. Alibhai-Brown can criticise justly the self-styled "majority" (an amalgam of historical minorities), and especially the inadequacy of ministerial responses to some of their folk-beliefs. But her analysis also gives little comfort to those who wish to protect a ghetto, or to ignore real cultural differences under the unchallengeable banner of "black".

She knows how easy it is to raise the cries of discrimination, in education as well as employment, because the official statistics speak for themselves. However, the spokespeople for disadvantaged groups are not always thoughtful about how to persuade those who need persuading, rather than to air honest indignation and gain street-cred in institutionalised movements.

Alibhai-Brown is totally opposed to injustice and wedded to an ideal of a multicultural British identity, yet her argument is complex - and painful at times to black as well as white.

She is anti-racist, but not anti-English. How happy I am to find myself quoted: "We English must feel secure in our Englishness if we are not to lapse back into a super-nationalism fuelled by rancid imperial nostalgia." As she says, "there must be something going on" when this view is shared by such a mixed bag as Ann Leslie, Melanie Phillips, Anthony Barnett, Billy Bragg and herself. One of the difficulties of the English old left was that it seemed to enthuse about every other nationalism except its own.

She ends a shrewd chapter on education with a reference to the new citizenship curriculum: "Bernard Crick has carefully built up an argument for the creation of an educated, caring society with different perspectives and with collective responsibilities." Well, that's an accolade.

But wait: "If this initiative ignores the powerful presence of ethnic, racial and religious diversity, it too will fail. And it will deserve to. And more generations will then be lost." I share the worry and accept some of the implied reproof. It is damned easy to put good words on paper. Yet the influence of the classroom depends not merely on the professionalism of pressured teachers, but on the example of political leaders and the ethos of the popular press.

These are concerns of such difficulty that where so many fools step in, angels fear to tread. But not this armoured angel, even if she can - in flailing great wings - occasionally hit too many targets. At the end, speaking of the aftermath of the Lawrence report, she says: "As a nation we had to listen and watch with anger and shame as all that we value and ought to take pride in has shown itself to be poisonous dust".

Not "all", Yasmin. There's enough left in the political traditions of the indigenous historic nations to be shamed into action towards removing injustices - and achieving a more mutually respectful understanding of the diverse identities within the overarching concept of "British".

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high