by Barnie Choudhury
Former BBC journalist
JACK BAUER saved the world from annihilation several times, and on at least two occasions, his commander-in-chief was black.
Matt Santos ran against the odds to win the nomination of the Democratic party in 2006 and became the US president.
And we have just learnt that Elizabeth McCord has quit as US secretary of state and announced she will run for president in the 2020 elections.
Sadly, only in one of these three plotlines does life imitate art. I remember watching the first season of 24 and cheering when the president was African-American, but thinking, not in my lifetime.
But there’s nowt so queer as folk, and Americans, so often ridiculed, showed that in a majority white country, minorities can become would leaders. How long before a Latino or woman is president in the world’s most powerful nation?
To extend this theme of dreaming is believing, let’s talk about Jahan Zakari who, in the brilliant BBC series MotherFatherSon, showed how a black British-Muslim prime minister could command the highest office in our land.
But a reality check – could Sajid Javid emerge as our first minority prime minister? The good news is that he’s already been promised £50,000 by donors in the Leavers and Remainers camps. This includes Dr Rami Ranger, from Eastern Eye’s Asian Rich List, who backed the last winner and current prime minister. But a British-Muslim son of Pakistani immigrants, whose father famously fought to be allowed to drive buses in Greater Manchester? Really? Heartbreakingly, I don’t think so, and let me explain why.
Back in 2002, I was a correspondent working at the BBC’s Television Centre when I had to meet and greet a Conservative shadow minister as she made an appearance on News 24.
As we walked through the corridors, I remarked that the Tories should be the natural home for Asians for they chime on family values, the entrepreneurial work ethic and respect for law and order. But the problem, I said rather forcefully, was that the Conservatives would always be the racist and nasty party. So, imagine my surprise when Theresa May told a few home truths at her party conference a few months later.
Sadly, you can listen, but you don’t always hear until it is too late; and quite often, you shoot the messenger. The Conservative party is in a pickle of its own making when it comes to embracing minorities. Strange that an organisation which markets itself as the friend of business can’t see the business case for swelling numbers by embracing diversity. This is a party whose former chair, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, labelled as Islamophobic; which last week was embroiled in the term’s very definition; and which a couple of months ago suspended 14 members for anti-Muslim Facebook posts.
It’s also sad to read that the home secretary faces racial abuse daily from the left and right and is accused of being either too brown or not brown enough. Javid is a patriot. He has consistently put his country first, no matter how unpopular it may have been with his party.
One of his first moves as home secretary was to sort out the debacle of the Windrush generation who have been illegally deported from their British homes. At the same time, he stopped a British-born Muslim woman, who actively helped terrorists beheaded aid workers, from returning to the UK.
When he writes his memoirs, Javid at least has the consolation of knowing that he made history by being the first person of colour to hold one of UK’s four highest political offices.
My head says the current Tory base won’t get behind a brown person. But that doesn’t mean that one day we won’t have an ethnic minority man or woman as prime minister. Somewhere, right now, is a young person of colour who will show that being BAME in the UK is no barrier. She, and I hope it is a she, will be supported by her parents, family and her country. Together they will ensure she studies history and, more importantly, learns its lessons. Together they will ensure she understands the rules of the game. Together they will champion and cherish her, so she is surrounded by wise advisers and people who are better than her. An unrealistic pipedream? Don’t write off this great country of ours.
What we yearn for right now is someone who fights for truth, fairness and justice, has the charisma to inspire us, and the courage to act on her instincts. That may the stuff of make-believe. But sometimes, hope is all we have, and when we least expect it, someone selfless turns up and shows us how to make the world a better place, turning fiction into fact.