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'British Values' Is a New Way of Dealing with British Racism

Kieran Yates' zine has stories like "Snog, Marry, Deport", and has featured contributors from Rude Kid to Riz Ahmed.

by Tom Usher
02 November 2016, 12:00am

The "Snog, Marry, Deport" feature from 'British Values'

Racism in the UK has gone mainstream. Where, before, big public displays of xenophobia were largely restricted to fringe far-right groups and similar breeds of dickhead, it's now part of the official Conservative Party identity. You need only look at the speeches at the party's recent conference for confirmation of that the Tories have adopted the anti-immigrant rhetoric that worked so well for UKIP and are trying to use it for their own gain.

It's in response to this political climate that journalist Kieran Yates – who was behind last year's Muslim Drag Queens documentary on Channel 4 – started her zine British Values. The idea was to provide a platform to Brits and people living in the UK who aren't white British men to speak about their experiences, with contributors so far ranging from respected journalists to actors and grime MCs.

The first issue was released last year, and the second – which features Riz Ahmed, Rude Kid and Speech Debelle, among others – is available to preorder now. I spoke to Kieran about her zine, and asked her for her thoughts on the recent shift in political rhetoric in the UK.

The front cover of issue two of 'British Values'

VICE: Hi Kieran. Please sum up the magazine in one sentence for people who may not know about it.
Kieran Yates: It's basically a celebration of the best of immigrant communities in the UK, telling firsthand stories and jokes all written by people of colour or those from immigrant communities, and one token white British man per issue, for a joke.

Why did you want to make the magazine?
It was a response to the increasingly aggressive rhetoric of "British values" that was being used in politics last year by David Cameron and Theresa May – quotes like, "We need to be more muscular in promoting British values." I felt like the political rhetoric was encouraging non-white Britons to show and prove their allegiance to the country.

So who is British Values for?
It's for everyone, but some jokes might go over your head. Obviously there are certain jokes the white community can't ever really find funny because the punchline means wading through lengthy explanations whenever you make a quip about Fair & Lovely cream, or whatever, and learning the comedic levels of rooms is part of the immigrant experience. But saying that, satire is satire, so if you get culture and have a superficial understanding of politics you'll get it. Like, Sadiq Khan as a page three stunner isn't just a brown joke.

Why do you focus on Theresa May visually so much? In the first issue and this one.
I mean, I truly believe that Theresa May and the current cabinet do not have "minority" women's best interests at heart. Changes to the Immigration Act alone will inevitably hit vulnerable women hardest. But I also think we need to be careful not to call her a she-devil straight off the back.

Why?
Because there are still systems in place that have got her here. She's awful and dangerous and has been put in a position of power at a time when the Tory government had already fucked up so badly that she's on what a lot of feminists would call a "glass cliff", which is when women are put in positions of power just as the company or government and so on is about to fail. But that's not to say she hasn't been awful and disappointing. Yarl's Wood Detention Centre, Prevent and the Immigration Act are all evidence of that.

That's a good point. So what do you expect from her?
I don't expect much more from her, to be honest. It's just mad that when she was Home Secretary she was fucking awful, and then here she is as Prime Minister. It's beyond parody, really.

So what do you want to happen with your magazine? What's the ultimate aim?
I mean, it's about platforming contributions and rewriting historical narratives – so three things, really. Maybe someone sees the feature on the Grunwick Dispute and sees how South Asian women were instrumental in pushing trade union rights in this country forward, and is like, "Oh, right." Maybe overwhelmingly white media offices will commission writers and illustrators off the back of it. Maybe a lone Priya growing up in Sunderland will see it and lol about the "Snog, Marry Deport" stuff. I dunno. The last issue was good, though, because people ordered it internationally, but also all over the UK, in places like Hull and Sunderland and Barnsley, and I thought that was very interesting.

I went to Grimsby recently and saw a fishing industry that had been gutted by EU legislation, and without making me want to vote for Brexit, it definitely made me understand some of the frustrations with the EU.
This is the thing – a lot has been written about the thicko white working classes who voted to leave, but there is lived experience of economic trauma, which I get, and a real frustration about immigration. I don't agree with the condescending tone people use for working class voters, and the left has been unbelievably bad at speaking to those communities, and Nigel Farage has been good.

What do you think about how politicians have been speaking since Brexit? The overwhelming emotional rhetoric.
Well, this notion of finally reclaiming lost sovereignty cracks me up.

Why?
Because the reason Britain is great, in my opinion, is thanks to years of shifting demographics and immigration and Punjabi corner shops. So yes, the idea that Britain has now been "claimed back" and that we'll make the best of this tough time together is really interesting. I guess people just want to feel ownership of something when they've lost so much after two recessions – and identity is what they're hanging on to.

READ: How the Conservative Party Is Sucking Up to Bigots and Stoking Racism

Do you feel the need to hang on to any kind of identity?
I mean, I don't need to cling on to an identity because mine feels very distinct – obviously I'm aggressively Punjabi in a lot of spaces, but I also grew up ingesting cold, rain-soaked British misanthropy and listening to Oasis and eating Victoria sponge. So this isn't an attack on "Britishness"; it's just a lament that the kind of Britishness that I thought was cool growing up is now aggressive and tolerates me rather than celebrating me. It's like having a mate you thought was cool growing up, but then you get older and realise they had a burn book about you all along and now tells everyone you're a shithead.

That's a very sad thing.
You know what I mean? Like, Jesus, Britain, who hurt you? I swear immigrants had made a net contribution of £20 billion to the UK over the last ten years, you prick. So yeah, it's emotional, really – it's a feeling, but then you just write it out and make jokes and hope things will be better for your kids.

Thanks, Kieran.

British Values is now available to preorder here.

@williamwasteman

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