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Is Rishi Sunak Racist?

Updated: May 23

On the surface, Rishi Sunak appears to be a sign that Britain is progressing and embracing its diversity. From his name to his skin colour, you can tell that he doesn’t have British ancestry, yet much of the British public has seemingly accepted him as their Prime Minister. Sounds too good to be true? Well, listen to Sunak’s voice, and you’ll find out why that is.

Sunak has gone on record stating that his parents put him in drama lessons from a young age to help him 'speak properly’. That notion is incredibly problematic because it implies that there is a correct way to speak, namely, the middle-class, Caucasian, London accent. To make matters worse, he has also attempted to use his race to garner sympathy from the voting public. For example, by bravely confessing that he too has faced racism during his life.

As an Indian raised in Britain, I can confidently say that most minorities have dealt with racism, whether verbal or physical. With this in mind, Sunak’s revelation feels like pandering, even if it was his genuine experience. Although at first glance this might seem overly cynical, we need to remember that there is a general election right around the corner. In other words, anything to help win votes is on the table, including playing the race card. This idea is supported by the fact that, during his time in office, Sunak has used his power to put further restrictions on immigration, proving that he picks and chooses when to emphasise his Indian heritage. 

In fact, he has recently come under fire for attempting to pass a bill that would send any asylum-seekers to Rwanda to have their cases heard. On top of this, his government has created a series of measures that aim to greatly reduce the number of legal migrants to Britain. In the context of him being the child of immigrants, these actions appear to be particularly cruel. That is, until you realise that he was thoroughly integrated into British society from birth and taught to emulate the hegemonic ideals of whiteness.

Even before he was born, his parents built a strong life for themselves in the UK, eventually owning a pharmacy and sending Rishi to one of Britain’s most expensive private schools. Having spent most of his time in this environment, there is no doubt that Sunak was sheltered from the hard life that most immigrant families have to endure. He did not see parents working two jobs to pay rent while their children attend state school and let themselves into the house alone, waiting for the adults to arrive back home from work late in the evening. 

Sunak was distanced from lives like this and ended up attending Oxford as an undergraduate, followed by Stanford for his master’s. Both institutions are well known for being prestigious and elitist environments. Throughout his life, the future PM was surrounded by children from privileged backgrounds, many of whom would have shaped his worldview as well as his behaviour. In 2001, Rishi Sunak would say in an interview for a BBC documentary “I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are working-class...well, not working class.” Privileged friends was all he had.

Once he graduated, Sunak married an heiress, which cemented his status as a wealthy individual. Combined, they currently have a net worth of over £500 million and have even been listed as some of the wealthiest people in Britain. That is to say, the trajectory of his life has enabled Rishi to place himself in a position of wealth and power unimaginable to the vast majority of second-generation immigrants.

Most people would say that this is an amazing achievement, and we should be proud to have someone who so openly embraces being of Indian descent. After all, when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2020, Sunak decided to take his oath on the Bhagvad Gita since he was both a “citizen of Britain'' and “also a Hindu." So, I guess the title of this article was completely wrong. Rishi is proud of being Indian and loves all minorities. Cased closed. But no. 

Sunak has done everything in his power, bar changing his name and lightening his skin, to be seen as British above all else. Granted, this is not entirely his fault; his parents attempted to assimilate him into a hegemonic ideal of British society from a young age. Frankly we can’t blame them for that, since back in the late 20th century, Britain was not exactly welcoming minorities with open arms (not that it’s much different currently).

They probably felt like they were protecting their child from a racist world and setting him up for success. However, due to his upbringing, Sunak was able to prosper in a system in which “only by conforming to the demands of the pre-existing establishment will race or colour no longer matter." 

So, while Sunak himself might not be overtly racist, he has chosen to be part of a structure that actively harms people of colour by implementing harsh policies against them—a tradition that has not only been continued by Sunak’s government but exacerbated by it. Therefore, Sunak’s path to PM exposes the harsh reality of Britain’s race problem. Specifically, compliance with British paradigms at the expense of heritage is the only way to obtain power.

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