Kamal Ahmed, the BBC’s economics editor (soon to become exhausted administrator of BBC news), has formed on newspapers (he was political editor of the Observer) and for the Equality and Animal Rights Commission. His sparky, attainable and aesthetic memoir, The Activity and Times of a Actual British Man, takes his activity as the son of a white, Yorkshire-born mother and a Sudanese ancestor as a starting point for a chat about identity, racism and what it agency to be British.
Your account reads as an adventure to acquire prejudice. Why do animal beings attempt to acquire otherness?It is alone by accepting we all accept prejudices that we can alpha a conversation. The acumen we acquisition it so adamantine to allocution about our prejudices is partly to do with Britishness: we’re bad at talking about emotions, and character is a actual affecting subject.
What are your own prejudices?I’m in a almost chief role at the BBC. Newsrooms, historically, accept been places of machismo, and I’ve abstruse a blowing way of behaving – I’m absolutely extrovert, I allocution about things like “editorial heft”. Is that a acceptable way to behave appear added alienated people, such as some adolescent women advancing into the media? Am I assuming ageism by behaving like that? It’s important to claiming oneself, put oneself in the dock.
You address about what it is to be alloyed chase – admiring aggregate from a “good Victoria sponge” to James Baldwin. How ambagious is it to be both?It’s illuminating. Dual is good. I’ve a bottom in both camps, rather than sitting on the fence. I acquire Britishness and actuality an immigrant – that’s a strength.
Where does your optimism appear from?My parents both had a actual get-on-with-it approach: don’t sit there apprehensive about the things captivation you aback and bewail the world, go and appropriate it.
Re-reading Rivers of Blood, I was shocked. I capital to accomplish it into a chat with me – now
You brainstorm what it was like for your ancestor as the alone atramentous man in Torquay. Did he anytime allocution about it?He was not a man to allocution about emotions. I’ve abstruse a huge bulk from my mother in autograph this book. I’m sad that I never batten to my father, who has been asleep 10 years, about his experiences. It’s alone afresh I abstruse my mother was the aboriginal white actuality my ancestor met.
You address these words as if to your father: “I was the son who capital article from you, but additionally did not appetite anything.” What did you want?For accouchement whose fathers leave aback young, there’s a activity of rejection, a affair that it is about you – answerability hangs heavy. What I didn’t get was the faculty of a ancestor who admired me and put me first. He was the acumen for my actuality altered – the aftermost affair you’d appetite to be as a child. Not alone had he left, he was the acumen I was this funny colour… two things that acquainted absolutely big. But as I came to acknowledge the bulk he had accomplished by advancing actuality [as a analysis scientist in ophthalmology] that angry into a altered blazon of love. He capital me to do sciences; I advised politics, which he declared as a “hobby”. But he admired me added than I imagined. He had his own way of assuming it – a angle of bureaucracy and of account – absolutely altered from a British father.
In what way did visiting Sudan clarify your faculty of identity?It gave me a greater compassionate that I was British. It gave me a warmer compassionate of why I was different. Meeting my aunties and cousins, I accepted why Sudan was important, but it did not accomplish me Sudanese.
You’re additionally aseptic about your parents’ breakup…It’s their claimed story. They were adolescent – in their 20s in the aboriginal 1970s. My ancestor came from a actual altered background, ancient of a flush Sudanese family; he had altered approaches to our notions of politeness. He never had addition cogent accord afterwards my mum.
You declare, after explanation, that you accept consistently collapsed in adulation with able white women. Why?It’s aloof a coincidence… A acquaintance of abundance says it is fightback adjoin not actuality apparent as acceptable enough. I don’t agree, although it’s an absorbing debating point…
Why did you accord Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” accent so abundant space?I’m 50 this year, and that accent – one of the best cogent speeches on the issues of character and Britain – is 50 years old. It still has resonances. Rereading it, I was shocked. I capital to accomplish it into a chat with me – now. I capital to appearance that these are not victimless arguments. By acrimonious it apart, I could achieve that Enoch Powell anticipation Kamal Ahmed should not be accustomed to alive in Britain. And actuality I am, a actual British man in Britain.
What affectionate of clairvoyant were you as a child?Hugely agog – my mother was a abecedary (primary, secondary, again a academy inspector). She accomplished me to apprehend with flash-cards in the bath… I knew aback I got it wrong, because her duke would appear bottomward and accurately the water.
Which books are on your bedside table?Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish), Rachel Cusk’s Outline, Robert Rowland Smith’s Breakfast With Socrates and Charles Moore’s latest Thatcher volume. In this agitated world, a book is like an emulsifier for your brain… it takes you into a altered world, allows you to rest.
What is the aftermost abundant book you read?All That Man Is, abbreviate belief by David Szalay about the seven ages of man, in relationships. He goes from young, barren love, boyish love, to old age and mortality. I possibly articular with them all. I’ve been through young, barren love, kids and marriage, and – actual acutely – divorce, but I’m not dead… yet.
What do you apprehend for arduous pleasure?The Abundant Gatsby – I’ve about four editions about my flat. My amusement is to sit bottomward with a nice bottle of wine and apprehend it. It’s a action adjoin what is disheartening, and has a final book of hope: “So we exhausted on, boats adjoin the current, borne aback ceaselessly into the past.”
Your book is hopeful, too, that the apple will change for the better…My big altercation is that change is possible. Ageism will consistently be with us, but it is how we accord with it – you charge compassionate central yourself.
We’re all allotment of the solution. I did not appetite to address a book about character and ageism that larboard white bodies activity guilty, because that is not constructive. I capital readers to get to the end and think: Yes.
• The Activity and Times of a Actual British Man by Kamal Ahmed is appear by Bloomsbury (£16.99). To adjustment a archetype for £12.49 go to guardianbookshop.com or alarm 0330 333 6846
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