Not OK Corral

This is an interesting item on Kenan Malik’s site. An email from Nirjay Mahindru, administrator of Tara Arts theatre, commenting on and agreeing with Malik’s tv documentary Disunited Kingdom, and talking about the way the focus on diversity and ethnicity forces minority groups to talk about certain subjects only or else shut up.

Artistically, this type of vetting, for fundamentally that’s what it is, consistently holds the British Asian artistic community back and ensures that cutting edge challenging theatre is somehow viewed as the exclusive monopoly of whites…Thus, I am expected to write basic derivates of ‘Bollywood’, or plays that deal with ‘the family’. What I can’t write about (as no venue will produce it) are plays that could be about anyone, but just happen to have British Asians in the leading roles, with no saris, somosas and silly songs. What I certainly CANNOT write about, are issues that may interest me but have no ‘ethnic component’. Thus, for example, if I wanted to write a play, say, on a passion of mine, the moon landings, that would be totally unacceptable from the likes of I. Putting it bluntly, artistically, I am a Paki, I should ‘know my place’ and write about the world of being ‘a Paki’.

Of course, what no venue will produce is a function of a lot of things – what people will buy tickets to see, what producers think people will buy tickets to see, what interests producers and other administrators, and so on. But it is interesting that audiences or producers and administrators or all of those are interested in Asians as Asians but not Asians as just people – interesting and highly unfortunate. (See the N&C on Amartya Sen saying much the same thing, below.) Because Asians, like anyone else, are not just Asians. None of us are just whatever ethnic group we belong to – none of us are just one thing – we’re all a multitude of things, and the more things we are the better for us and the better for the people who know us.

We posted an article on the same subject a few months ago by Jatinder Verma, also of Tara Arts.

But when a corral is created around cultural diversity we are being fed, and we help sustain, difference; rather than be confronted to explore connections. Merely beating the drum of culturally diverse arts – as decibel seeks to do – will only help to marginalise these artists within the confines of ‘identity’. Identity need not be immutable; it can be in dialogue with other identities. It is only then that we can all participate in the quality of the artistic experience.

Maybe it’s time for the obsession with ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ to run its course. It was only dubiously left-wing or progressive to begin with, and its unprogressive aspects have begun to become very clear in the last few years. Maybe it’s time to start seeing the advantages of universalism again, and let all the ethnics out of their corrals.

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