Britain’s appointment of its first Asian PM is a milestone for all minorities – Chicago Tribune
It was early spring 1946. British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, seeing the untenable status quo, sent a simple message to the British colonial officer in India: “By all means, get Britain out.” an act passed by Parliament that finally ended Britain’s violent colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent. Twenty years later, British colonies in East Africa successively declared their independence, propelling the UK through the difficult transition from an imperial power to a modern liberal democracy.
A person’s life experience was a microcosm of these critical turning points in the history of contemporary Britain and the collective West. He is Rishi Sunak, Britain’s new Prime Minister. Sunak, the child of ethnic Indian parents who was born in colonial Kenya and Tanzania, is the first British Asian to hold the highest office in the British government.
Sunak was chosen by his Conservative Party MPs to replace Liz Truss, whose fiscal proposals wreaked havoc on the UK economy. His appointment has caused considerable controversy in the UK, with Labor Party supporters complaining that he was not elected by general election. But controversial as it is, the process of his appointment should in no way detract from the historical character of this moment. As prime minister, Sunak symbolizes the influence of the modern movement to combat racism and inequality, borne by generations of advocates in the West.
Racial inequality exists in many forms, but the existence of a racial hierarchy is one of the most important manifestations. Until Sunak’s appointment, Britain never had a single non-white prime minister. Similarly, in the private sector, it was noted last year that none of the UK’s top 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange had black chairmen, chief executives or chief financial officers. The social movement for diversity and inclusion seeks to remove the barriers to success for minorities when they earn it through hard work. And Sunak’s appointment has shed a positive light on the movement’s achievements.
The appointment of Britain’s first non-white prime minister also shakes the narrative of white supremacists in the collective West. In the days leading up to Sunak’s election as president, a caller on a London radio show suggested that Sunak’s skin color showed he was “not even British” enough to be prime minister. The racist remark was made despite the fact that Sunak was born in Southampton, England. His tenure as prime minister not only shows the great western country’s commitment to diversity, but also gives Sunak a chance to show white supremacists that a person of color can do the job just as well.
Racial equality activists in America can also learn some lessons from this recent development on the other side of the Atlantic. Asian Americans are poorly represented in all three branches of government. In US history there has never been a single Asian American Supreme Court Justice, nor has there been an Asian American Speaker of the House of Representatives. In 2017, a California Supreme Court judge publicly questioned that out of a total of 94 US attorneys, only three are Asian Americans. Since then, the situation has not improved significantly.
It is time for civil society organizations and independent advocates in America to take notice of the under-representation of Asian minorities at various levels of US government. Asian Americans’ voices deserve to be heard, especially during this trying time as the nation is seeing a 339% annual increase in hate crimes against Asians. Advocates must coordinate among themselves and with policymakers to raise societal awareness of minority inclusion and representation across the country.
Sunak’s rise to the top British leadership is bigger than a minority Asian story, bigger than a British African Asian story. Sunak’s premiership reflects the efforts of all racial equality activists, regardless of racial or ethnic background, across generations. It also serves as a reminder that there is still work to be done to make racial prejudice an injustice of the past.
Bincheng Mao is an agenda contributor to the World Economic Forum. He writes on human rights and economic justice.
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