Mihir Bose (left), the first non-white editor at the BBC, at the 1995 British Sports Journalism Awards in London. Bose’s memoir reiterates the idea that the British Empire is over and all that remains is the difficult task of acknowledging it; but a wave of new books shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Photo: Colorsport / Imago
Mihir Bose (left), the first non-white editor at the BBC, at the 1995 British Sports Journalism Awards in London. Bose’s memoir reiterates the idea that the British Empire is over and all that remains is the difficult task of acknowledging it; but a wave of new books shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Photo: Colorsport / Imago

The spectre of racialisation that haunts brown Britain

The past struggles of brown and black immigrants have brought improvement in racial equality in the United Kingdom – but recent books make clear that British liberalism’s claims of substantive progress are overly optimistic

On the face of it, Southasians in Britain have never had it this good. Lists of the country’s rich regularly feature Southasian names linked to eye-wateringly large fortunes. Southasian representation in virtually every arena – from media and music to literature, sport and the arts – has become more commonplace, diverse and sophisticated, making it seem almost less remarkable as a result. Southasian cuisine is unshakeably ensconced in British gastronomy. And British politics increasingly features brown faces in the highest places. When Humza Yousaf, of Pakistani descent, became Scotland’s first minister in 2023, a year after Rishi Sunak, of Indian descent, had become the United Kingdom’s first Asian-origin prime minister, a meme doing the rounds on Southasian WhatsApp groups gleefully looked forward to the breakup of the United Kingdom being negotiated by a “Pakistani” and an “Indian” – a wry reference to how India and Pakistan were created from the partition of the Subcontinent at the end of British colonial rule. At the time, Yousaf’s Scottish National Party was advocating a referendum on whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom.

It wasn’t always like this, of course. Mihir Bose’s memoir Thank You Mr. Crombie: Lessons in Guilt and Gratitude to the British reminds us that many of these developments took place within living memory. Bose will likely be familiar to viewers of the BBC as its first sports editor, and also its first non-white editor. Born in Kolkata shortly before Partition and India’s independence in 1947 – one of “midnight’s children”, as he describes himself – he first travelled to the United Kingdom in 1969 to study industrial engineering. His early experiences were typical of those endured by legions of mid-century black and brown immigrants: landladies refused to rent him rooms, white women baulked at the prospect of romantic relationships and colleagues warned him not to bring his “funny food” to work. Switching to a career in chartered accountancy in the hope that this would give him the space to pursue his ambition of becoming a writer, he took his first step towards his dream by persuading the newly formed London Broadcasting Corporation to allow him to become its cricket correspondent. 

‘Thank You Mr Crombie: Lessons in Guilt and Gratitude to the British’ by Mihir Bose. Hurst Publishers (May 2024)
‘Thank You Mr Crombie: Lessons in Guilt and Gratitude to the British’ by Mihir Bose. Hurst Publishers (May 2024)
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