Review: Lost Boys? What’s Going Wrong for Asian Men

I was inspired to watch the documentary, ‘Lost Boys? What’s Going Wrong for Asian Men?’ after I read an indignant and intellectual thread from an Asian Muslim lady (the brilliant Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan) who I understand has received a commission from the BBC to produce a piece about it.

My immediate response was ‘fantastic’ but surely the best person to analyse and discuss a documentary about our ‘lost boys’ and what is going wrong for Asian men is an Asian man himself? I reflected some more and realised, that’s the problem, that we don’t actually have a spokesMAN that I know of so I felt it was incumbent upon me to compose this blog. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an admirer of the person who received the commission who is clearly a very eloquent and perceptive individual. However, there are inherent limitations to her understanding of the subjective experience of an Asian man in Britain as there are inherent limitations in my understanding of what it’s like for an Asian lady who wears a hijab in Britain.

I’ll start off with the title which is blatantly sensational and that for me raises immediate concerns. It’s also hugely loaded. Are we lost? What ‘went wrong’ for us as if nothing ‘went right’ for us? I’ll return to this point. The next issue I want to raise is the selection of the presenter. Mehreen Baig, according to her website, is a teacher turned blogger turned TV presenter. I personally think the BBC made an error with who they chose for the task. What we need is one of our own; a Muslim brother from our own ranks who knows what it feels like to have a fire burning in his belly, who is an expert by lived experience and who can relate to the Asian men he is interviewing because he FELT the pain of exclusion and being at the receiving end of racial slurs and discrimination. A brother who is made to feel like he is a heathen beast and that he is below his white male counterparts. Such a brother would have lent the documentary more credibility and authenticity. The presenter clearly had her own agenda and, in my opinion, was not qualified for the job. She was also far too privileged for my liking. It almost felt as though the BBC wanted to justify their choice whenever she would launch into a soliloquy which indicated how thoughtful and caring she is.

The next issues are racism, Islamophobia and identity. Racism is rampant in the UK although it is important to state that inclusion and acceptance do exist albeit not as widespread as they should. Remember the London 07/07 bombings? The perpetrators of that horrific and heinous atrocity were from Leeds. I can surmise that from a very early age they, like me and other Asian men, were constantly told that they would never amount to anything in life. I know what if feels like to be avoided and ridiculed and let me tell you it hurts. A lot. These boys were ignored and not listened to and conjured a nefarious plan to make their voices heard. I condemn their vile actions in the strongest possible terms but I don’t think we have done enough to understand and address the social, political, psychological, cultural and economic factors that contributed to their despicable actions. There are a lot of Asian boys who are in pain and we need to have the humility to reach out to them, validate them, dignify them and remind them that they can make important and meaningful contributions for the betterment of our society. We need to make them FEEL that we value them, care for them and that we love them. We need to make them BELIEVE in themselves and, by doing so, we will empower them.

Identity.

When I was younger it felt like there was a constant tug of war in my mind. I longed to be accepted by British society, but I did not want to forsake my faith. Vice is seemingly ubiquitous and I gradually strayed from the path of Islam. The temptation was just too strong and I succumbed. I recall beholding my reflection in the mirror one morning and being almost unrecognisable to myself. The realisation was overwhelming and I was consumed by remorse which drove me over the edge.

As a mental health professional, I think we must address identity and acculturation and be cognisant that many of our Asian boys and men experience an identity crisis and that this can precipitate psychological distress and illicit substance misuse (the latter is a form of escapism). We must also teach them the skills to reconcile both ways of life. I am a proud British Muslim; you don’t have to indulge in what is prohibited in Islam to be ‘British’.

So, what does it feel like to be an Asian boy/man in the UK? Are we truly ‘lost’ and did things go so terribly wrong for us? Well, I left my family when I was 17 years old and started off as a janitor cleaning floors on minimum wage. I was naive and will never forget how it felt when I would say good morning to people and they wouldn’t reciprocate. But at least over here education is a birth right, so I enrolled into a sixth form college and continued to work full time hours to sustain myself. I received straight A grades in my A Levels despite being in full time employment and matriculated into medical school. Structural racism and Islamophobia de-railed me and I was rendered impoverished, ostracised and homeless. Like our boys, I started to search for my soul and I found it in both my faith and in British society. I got back on track, resumed my medical training with renewed resilience and determination, qualified from medical school and in 2013 received the Royal College of Psychiatrists Foundation Doctor of the Year Award which marks the highest level of achievement in psychiatry in the UK. There are many Asian boys and men out there who, like me, have triumphed in the hostile face of adversity. Things actually went ‘right’ for us. So, we may at times be misguided but I would not describe us as collectively lost. Our boys are feeling stigmatised and a documentary that addresses and challenges this and the issues of structural racism and Islamophobia is what we sorely need.

4 thoughts on “Review: Lost Boys? What’s Going Wrong for Asian Men

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. All credit to you for achieving your goal and surpassing what many British people of any colour can only dream of becoming, even in the face of discrimination, confusion, humiliation and poverty. I don’t think that any ethnic minority is inferior in Britain, but it is discomforting to see neighbourhoods change so fast through high immigration. It brings with it a kind of racism that is not about being Asian, black or anything else, but rather to do with a sense of losing one’s culture; being marginalised within one’s own country. That happens in pockets of society; certain cities, certain districts. I even know black and Asian people in the UK who have that feeling, because things were a certain way where they lived and now they are not. Moreover, those opinions are branded as racism and their voices are not heard. Therefore, I don’t judge people for being racist on those grounds – I don’t see it as racism at its core. However, what you describe in reference to being treated as a second class citizen on grounds of your ethnicity is something that I find heinous and even primitive. Such views make a person less than a human being and at their most extreme end, become terrifying, as history has demonstrated. Unless someone is very privileged in Britain, the sense of being excluded is going to be experienced at some time or another in life. However, people of colour are at an immediate disadvantage, purely due to the colour of their skin, which they cannot change and which bears no intrinsic relationship to their character, intelligence or worth as a human being. After that comes the name, accent, gender, sexual orientation, outward religious signs, such as a hijab, turban, etc., but skin colour? Not much you can do to disguise that. Therefore, reading your article has reminded me of what a burden it must be for people of colour in Britain to have to deal with negative reactions every day of their lives, whatever they do. It’s even getting worse, not better, as immigration seems to soar and the existing population cannot adjust; there’s competition for housing, jobs, places in schools, hospital beds… Nevertheless, that’s to do with messed up government policies and on a wider scale, worldwide trends in the movement of people – it should never descend into the abuse of individuals. Any one of us could end up in that position and be victimised. I see young Asians with very flashy cars and the music blaring in my home city and I can see where that superficial display of wealth comes from, but I can also see how it is perceived. Their white counterparts are seen as dudes: cool, successful, desirable… at least if they are southern English and middle class. I think you get my drift. Thanks again for sharing your thought-provoking story. Nothing is going to change for the better in this world until we leave behind the whole white superiority myth for good.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Gwen for your very kind and thoughtful response. I agree with many of the points you made. Unfortunately brown people also suffer with delusions of superiority (look at the Gulf states and how they treat manual labourers). Arrogance is disdainful and we must do all we can to rout it out of ourselves and others. Thank you again. Ahmed

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just watched the ‘mockumentary’ cobbled together by Mehreen Baig et al and am still processing my annoyance and anger. There is clearly an agenda at work, and she is selling out for the fame. So much more to articulate on the topic, but I still feel like my head is going to explode so coherent and detailed writing not happening!
    When I observed the Bradford boys she interviewed/manipulated, I saw beautiful boys with modesty and humility, shyness and ‘nur’. I saw boys who were in need of building up, not breaking down. I was born and brought up in South Wales, which has its own legacy from shutting down industry and leaving men without purpose and direction.

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