Apartheid in book awards....
Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal is pissed off with the new Decibel Prize (for books) in the UK, because only blacks and asians are eligible.
UNLIKE MOST of Britain, the culture vultures organising this year’s British Book Awards are enthusiastic supporters of racial segregation — with the best and most politically correct intentions, of course. On April 20 they’ll be presenting the inaugural Decibel Prize, an award reserved exclusively for black and Asian writers. The Arts Council, which sponsors it, is doing so because it is “committed to supporting the increased engagement of black and Asian people as writers, readers and publishers”. To achieve this it is saving a special pat on the head for Britain’s ethnic minorities. Am I alone in finding this wholly patronising?Hurrah for Mr. Dhaliwal for writing this piece and to the Timesonline for publishing it.
The real multicultural personalities worth honouring are people such as Mrs Diamond, the old Jewish lady who babysat my cousins and me, so our mums could go to work; or Mr Garrett, my disciplinarian secondary-school form tutor, who put the fear of God into a class of rowdy working-class black and Asian boys, so that we all got an education. But decent ordinary people never get a mention; instead, with great fanfare, we have the Decibel Prize and the Emmas, and others that often depend on a corporate sponsor wanting to buy itself a little street-cred (last year’s Emmas came courtesy of NatWest).
There is a basic misconception behind these awards. The Arts Council says it wants to increase reading and writing among ethnic minorities; this implies that we don’t read and write enough. Toni Morrison and V.S. Naipaul are Nobel laureates; Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie are Booker Prize winners; India has the largest English-language reading public in the world. These are facts the Decibel Prize people have missed. Andrea Levy’s Whitbread Prize-winning Small Island is one of the books nominated for it, but she hasn’t got a problem with being placed in a niche. “I don’t call it segregation,” Levy said. “You’re trying to raise the profile of something . . . Sometimes it needs a helping hand.”
But genuine talent doesn’t need the condescending hand of bourgeois liberalism; it will rise on its own merits.
The truly talented members of Britain’s ethnic minorities don’t want meaningless baubles for work that doesn’t deserve attention; they want to make it in the big league, competing with everyone else. By allocating prizes according to race there’s a danger that not only will true talent be marginalised but also that mediocrity will be rewarded. The woolly sentimentalism of London’s literati made them laud a writer as unremarkable as Zadie Smith to the skies; the same thinking must be why the BBC repeatedly commissions The Kumars at No 42. I cringe whenever I watch that junk, hoping the public doesn’t think that all Asians are as naff and unfunny as they are.
I’ve written a novel myself; when it is published next year, I want it to cut the real mustard, not the sentimental treacle of the establishment. I don’t want the marginal recognition that might come with winning the Decibel; I want to go toe-to-toe with Whitey. I want to compete with Amis, McEwan and all the other big shots. And I don’t want a helping hand from anyone.